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Vocapedia > Politics > Diplomacy > World > Middle East




3 September 2010

Guy Badeaux (Bado)

Ottawa - Journal LeDroit



M: U.S. president Barack Obama

44th President of the United States - Barack Obama


Related > U.S. Effort in Mideast


















Jeff Stahler

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio


3 September 2010


R: Uncle Sam

















Ed Stein

Denver, Colorado


2 February 2011


R: President Barack Obama

Related > Egypt’s protest
















Middle East / Mideast        UK










Middle East / Mideast        USA













A guide to Middle East politics in 2014        UK


From Egypt to Syria, Palestine to Iraq,

the hopes of the Arab spring lie in tatters.


And with the latest conflict in Gaza,

the Middle East is more violent, volatile and complex

than ever










the Holy Land        UK

















Palestinians        USA







Cursed Victory:

A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories – review        UK        18 July 2014


Ahron Bregman's account

of nearly five decades of Israeli occupation

is hard-hitting and rich in telling details






 Israeli-Palestinian violence






Israeli-Palestinian peace talks






peaceful reconciliation






Palestinian territories






Western wall






East Jerusalem        2015


Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War against Arab nations (...).

Israel annexed heavily Palestinian East Jerusalem,

declaring it part of Israel.


The Israeli move has never been recognized

by the rest of the world,

and the Palestinians are seeking that part of the city

for the capital of a future state.






The Palestinians want a state

in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem

— territories Israel captured in the 1967 war —        2013


Since 1967,

Israel has built dozens of settlements

in the West Bank and east Jerusalem

that are now home to 560,000 Israelis —

an increase of 60,000

since Obama became president four years ago,

settler officials say.






Middle East / Mideast > Palestinian state / statehood




















two-state solution        USA











bridge the Mideast divide        USA






request U.N. status        USA






bid for UN membership
















Mideast / Middle East peace process










talks            UK






negotiators        UK






derail peace        UK
















Holy City / Jerusalem        2013


the historic Old City:

a small walled enclave of less than one square kilometre

within the sprawling city that is Jerusalem, divided into loose quarters

for Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians.


It is the heart of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict,

the centre for the world's three great monotheistic religions,

and a magnet for pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.


In this crucible of faith, priests, rabbis and imams

brush past bare-limbed backpackers as they make their way

over the treacherously smooth flagstones of its narrow alleyways.


Gaggles of pilgrims from Eastern Europe, West Africa and Latin America

jostle with ultra-orthodox Jews and devout Muslims on their way to pray

at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall or the Al-Aqsa mosque.






east Jerusalem







cartoons > USA > Cagle > Obama Israel        2012






American Israel Public Affairs Committee        USA        AIPAC






Obama's four-nation tour in the Middle East        June 2009














Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque        2002


Ariel Sharon

risks provoking another Palestinian backlash

over control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

as he decides in the coming days what to do

about a large and unstable bulge in a wall

of one of Islam's holiest sites.


Archaeologists have warned the prime minister

that without urgent repairs the mount's southern wall

and buildings attached to it - including the al-Aqsa mosque -

could collapse

on some of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers

who are expected to visit during Ramadan, which begins next month.






traumatic effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on children







Palestine        End of the British mandate        1948

al-Nakba (”the Catastrophe”) / النكبة


In the course of Israel's creation in 1948

and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967,

more than half the Arabs of pre-1948 Palestine

are thought to have been displaced.















United Nations General Assembly        Resolution 181        November 29, 1947


The United Nations General Assembly decided in 1947

on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states,

with Jerusalem to be an internationalised city.


Jewish representatives in Palestine accepted the plan tactically

because it implied international recognition for their aims.


Some Jewish leaders,

such as David Ben Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister,

opposed the plan because their ambition was a Jewish state

on the entire territory of Mandate Palestine.


The Palestinians and Arabs

felt that it was a deep injustice to ignore the rights

of the majority of the population of Palestine.


The Arab League and Palestinian institutions

rejected the partition plan,

and formed volunteer armies that infiltrated

into Palestine beginning in December of 1947.









Iran's Nuclear Program












Lebanon        Beirut        Sabra and Shatila massacre        1982


The 1982 massacres of Palestinians

at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps

claimed the lives of at least 800 civilians,

murdered by Lebanese

Christian militiamen allied to Israel

during its brief occupation

of the Lebanese capital, Beirut.


The killings are considered

the worst atrocity of Lebanon's 15-year civil war

and perhaps during the entire Middle East conflict.


The victims had been left defenceless

after Israel drove the Syrian army and fighters belonging

to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)

from the Lebanese capital












Arab League






road map        2003


The road map is an internationally devised peace plan,

drawn up by the US, the UN, the EU and Russia

- with Israeli and Palestinian consultation -

that seeks a two state solution

to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.











As Netanyahu Prevails in Israel,

a Thorny Relationship Persists for U.S.


MARCH 18, 2015

The New York Times



WASHINGTON — Benjamin Netanyahu’s resounding victory in Israeli elections on Tuesday appears to have dashed any hopes President Obama might have had for a way out of his tumultuous and often bitter relationship with the prime minister.

White House officials offered no immediate reaction late Tuesday night to results that showed Mr. Netanyahu with a substantial lead after a divisive campaign that featured a national debate about whether the Israeli leader was undermining the country’s longstanding connection with the United States.

In a statement earlier in the day, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said only that Mr. Obama was “committed to working very closely with the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong relationship between the United States and Israel.”

He added: “The president is confident that he can do that with whomever the Israeli people choose.”

Mr. Netanyahu achieved a surprisingly strong finish after a highly controversial speech this month before the United States Congress, addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and deepening the rift with Mr. Obama and his top aides.

If Mr. Netanyahu is able to form a new government in the weeks ahead, he may well emerge as an even more empowered antagonist for the United States during the final two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

The prime minister emerged as the top candidate in the Israeli elections by declaring that he was now opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, perhaps the most central piece of United States foreign policy doctrine as it relates to Middle East peace. And in the final hours of the campaign, Mr. Netanyahu appealed to supporters in his own country by warning that a wave of Arab voters could sweep him out of office.

Any hopes of restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the Middle East — already a long shot given the prime minister’s disagreements with Mr. Obama over settlements — could be even further undermined by Mr. Netanyahu’s newly stated opposition to a “two-state solution” in the Middle East.

Mr. Netanyahu’s continued presence as Israel’s leader also means that his vocal opposition to the negotiations with Iran will only grow more intense as the deadline for reaching a nuclear agreement draws closer. Mr. Obama and the leaders of five other nations have said they want to reach a framework for a deal with Iran by the end of this month.

But beyond the substantive issues, Mr. Netanyahu’s victory means that Mr. Obama will not have an opportunity for a “reset” on one of his trickiest, most fraught relationships with any world leader.

On the one hand, White House officials insist that Mr. Obama has talked with Mr. Netanyahu — on the phone or in person — more than with any other world leader. And they say the bonds between the military and intelligence agencies of the two countries are as strong as ever. Aid to Israel has not wavered, officials note.

But personally, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu have never become close, aides said. The Israeli prime minister is known for being difficult. James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, once barred Mr. Netanyahu, then a more junior government official, from the halls of the State Department. President Bill Clinton famously disliked Mr. Netanyahu.

“This is a relationship between the president and the prime minister that you could actually see getting worse,” Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.

The question moving forward for Mr. Obama may be whether he should essentially write off the Israeli prime minister in much the same way he has written off building any relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, another frequent antagonist.

Alternatively, Mr. Obama could use the Israeli election as an excuse to try and make one last attempt at building a more cooperative relationship with Mr. Netanyahu.

Even if that happens, though, it is not clear whether Mr. Netanyahu would reciprocate, especially with the Iran negotiations looming this summer.

Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly said he views Iran’s nuclear ambitions as an existential threat to Israel, and he is unlikely to want to compromise in the interests of easing any relationship — even with the president of the United States.

As Netanyahu Prevails in Israel, a Thorny Relationship Persists for U.S.,
NYT, MARCH 18, 2015,






Can American Diplomacy

Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


When Ronald Neumann began his Foreign Service career in the early 1970s, he sometimes carried a pistol to protect himself. It was a reasonable precaution. American diplomats in those days lived without benefit of blast walls or security advisers, even in volatile countries, and consulates were at times housed on the ground floors of apartment buildings, with local families living on the upper stories. Neumann worked with a freedom that is scarcely imaginable for many diplomats today; he could go anywhere, by himself, and talk to anyone. In the early ’80s, when he was the deputy mission chief in Yemen, Neumann got wind of a threat to burn down the embassy building in the capital, Sana. The Arab world was in turmoil at the time, after an Israeli invasion of Lebanon and months of mounting violence. Much of the anger was directed at Americans. The embassy was easily accessible to any passer-by, an ordinary house in a residential neighborhood with no police protection. But Neumann — whose boss was out of the country at the time — did not close it down. Then things became more serious: there were rumors that angry Palestinians in Sana were planning to attack Neumann’s house. Neumann, a taciturn Vietnam veteran, took it in stride. “I brought a shotgun home from the embassy and locked the front gate,” Neumann told me. “My wife asked me if there was anything else we could do. I told her no. So she said, ‘In that case I’ve got some curtains I’ve been meaning to wash; I might as well do it now.’ I remember thinking, This is probably how they handled it when the Indian raids went down in the old West; just stay inside and mend the saddles.”

Three decades later, after serving as an ambassador in three countries, Neumann found himself marveling at how much his profession has changed. “The dangers have gotten worse, but the change is partly psychological,” he told me. “There’s less willingness among our political leaders to accept risks, and all that has driven us into the bunker.”

Nothing illustrated those changes better than the death of J. Christopher Stevens, after an assault by jihadis on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11. Stevens was a brave and thoughtful diplomat who, like Neumann, lived to engage with ordinary people in the countries where he served, to get past the wire. Yet his death was treated as a scandal, and it set off a political storm that seems likely to tie the hands of American diplomats around the world for some time to come. Congressmen and Washington pundits accused the administration of concealing the dangers Americans face abroad and of failing Stevens by providing inadequate security. Threats had been ignored, the critics said, seemingly unaware that a background noise of threats is constant at embassies across the greater Middle East. The death of an ambassador would not be seen as the occasional price of a noble but risky profession; someone had to be blamed.

Lost in all this partisan wrangling was the fact that American diplomacy has already undergone vast changes in the past few decades and is now so heavily encumbered by fortresslike embassies, body armor and motorcades that it is almost unrecognizable. In 1985 there were about 150 security officers in U.S. embassies abroad, and now there are about 900. That does not include the military officers and advisers, whose presence in many embassies — especially in the Middle East — can change the atmosphere. Security has gone from a marginal concern to the very heart of American interactions with other countries.

The barriers are there for a reason: Stevens’s death attests to that, as do those of Americans in Beirut, Baghdad and other violent places. But the reaction to the attack in Benghazi crystallized a sense among many diplomats that risks are less acceptable in Washington than they once were, that the mantra of “security” will only grow louder. As a result, some of the country’s most distinguished former ambassadors are now asking anew what diplomacy can achieve at such a remove.

“No one has sat back to say, ‘What are our objectives?’ ” said Prudence Bushnell, who was ambassador to Kenya when the Qaeda bombing took place there in 1998, killing more than 200 people and injuring 4,000. “The model has become, we will go to dangerous places and transform them, and we will do it from secure fortresses. And it doesn’t work.”

When Chris Stevens was growing up in Northern California, American diplomats organized their own security, for the most part. “Back then, you would exercise your own judgment on what was dangerous, and plenty of guys were excited by the risks,” said Richard Murphy, a retired diplomat who began his Foreign Service career in 1955 and was ambassador to four countries. The term “terrorist” had not yet acquired its modern force, nor had the idea that American diplomats should not talk to certain unsavory groups. You were meant to talk to everyone.

One evening in 1962, Murphy was at the American Consulate in Aleppo, Syria, when he heard about a coup attempt by military officers. It was a volatile time in Syria; Murphy witnessed two other coups, with a revolving cast of generals and revolutionaries. This time, there were large demonstrations. His bosses wanted the Syrian authorities to provide reassurance that American citizens living in the area would not be caught up in the conflict. So Murphy got into his car, alone, and drove to the Aleppo Police Headquarters. There he found a scene of chaos, with armed Syrian commandos shouting at one another. He recognized an officer he knew lying dead on the floor. “The Syrians were not amused,” Murphy recalled dryly. “They told me to get out of there.”

Even in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, diplomats in the field were free to handle safety as they saw fit. On Sept. 18, 1982, Ryan Crocker, then the 33-year-old political section chief at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, drove to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southwest Beirut, where Christian militia fighters had carried out a mass slaughter of Palestinians. “There was no security, no nothing,” he told me. “That’s when I discovered what a massacre looked like.” There were hundreds of bodies strewed on the ground inside the camps, many of them mutilated; some had been booby-trapped with explosives. The next day Crocker was asked to go back for a detailed body count. He drove to the camps again, without a bodyguard. “No one gave it a second thought at that time,” Crocker told me. “It was just what you did.”

That was about to change. Seven months later, on April 18, Crocker was in his office at the embassy, making phone calls about the continuing security concerns of Palestinian refugees. He was about to walk downstairs for lunch when a tremendous blast knocked him across the room. He picked himself up off the floor, scratched and dazed but unhurt, and opened the door of his office. “Instead of looking at the suite of offices across the hall,” Crocker told me, “I was looking out at the Mediterranean.”

The entire front of the building had been sheared off, and Crocker’s colleagues in the neighboring office were dead. The bomb, delivered by a suicidal zealot in a truck packed with explosives, killed 63 people, including most of the C.I.A.’s Beirut staff and its top Middle East analyst. More bombings followed: at the U.S. Marines’ Beirut barracks, where 241 servicemen died, and at the U.S. Embassy again the following year. The bombings were an unprecedented blow to the Foreign Service, and they reverberated in Congress.

One direct result of the attacks was the adoption of new standards for U.S. embassies abroad: they were to have a 100-foot setback from the perimeter wall to the building, along with barriers, blast-resistant materials and far more restricted access. They were often removed to antiseptic suburbs, far from the city centers where diplomats needed to be. I remember seeing an Arabic cartoon produced years later that showed two tiny figures standing near the gate of a towering fortress with an American flag on top. “How do you enter the U.S. Embassy?” one figure asks. “You can’t,” the other replies. “You have to be born there.”

Along with the new buildings came armies of security officers, who would accompany American diplomats and advise them on what was safe and what was not. They became an intrinsic part of the embassies’ engagement with host countries, helping to determine who could go where and whom they could meet with.

“Before the Beirut bombings, we were prepared to take a substantially greater risk than we did later,” Crocker told me. “You have to remember that ’83 was not the first time we’d lost diplomats. I was an ambassador six times, and three of my predecessors were assassinated. It was the cost of doing business in dangerous zones. Congress accepted it; the public accepted it. The top priority was getting the job done.”

By the time I became a foreign correspondent in 2003, the “Fortress America” model was entrenched. In Lebanon, where I lived for several years, the U.S. Embassy had long since moved to a well-guarded compound in the hills a half-hour north of Beirut. In some ways it seemed more like a prison; diplomats based there could not leave without advance permission, and when they did, they were often surrounded by guards. Most journalists scarcely bothered to talk to them, because we assumed they knew the country far less well than we did. It was not quite so bad in other countries. But the U.S. Embassies in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and, of course, Iraq, were so formidable that even I felt unwelcome visiting them. British and European diplomats sometimes seemed more conversant with the local culture than the Americans, despite their much smaller staffs and resources.

In every post, I found dedicated and thoughtful American diplomats who knew the country well and got out to meet people regularly (one of them was Chris Stevens, whom I met in 2007). But many of them told me they had to put enormous effort into overcoming the obstacles created by so many layers of protection. All the ambassadors I spoke with said they had good working relationships with the security chiefs, and they were grateful for their help in understanding risks. But more junior diplomats told me the security officers exercised a subtle influence on all kinds of decisions. “They don’t want to say yes because it’s easier to say no,” one midlevel diplomat told me. “We all fight this battle every day. My first thought on hearing about Chris Stevens’s death — aside from the sadness — was that this is going to make it even harder for us.” Several diplomats told me that if the security constraints get worse, they will consider changing careers.

Outside the Middle East, the rules have shifted more slowly. Prudence Bushnell, who became a deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in 1993, told me she roamed around the continent with little fear for her safety. “I would go to warlords and tell them to knock it off,” she said. “I didn’t ask for security. I was in Rwanda just before it blew up, and just afterward. No security. The F.B.I. wanted to bring in guns, and I told them they were crazy.”

That changed on Aug. 7, 1998, when Al Qaeda operatives detonated a huge bomb outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Bushnell, who was then ambassador to Kenya, was in a meeting with the Kenyan trade minister in a building next door. She was knocked unconscious by the force of the blast and cut by shards of flying glass. The bomb had shattered the lightly guarded embassy and left hundreds of mangled bodies across a smoking landscape. Most of the victims were Kenyans. After being treated by a doctor in a nearby hotel, Bushnell began supervising recovery efforts. Her grief was mixed with deep anger: she had repeatedly asked Washington to move the large and vulnerable downtown Nairobi embassy and reported credible threats, including one that warned of a truck bomb. She had even written a personal letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Bushnell told me, urging her to do something.

Yet Bushnell, like other veteran diplomats who have witnessed some of the worst horrors inflicted on Americans overseas, now wonders whether the reaction has gone too far, leaving diplomats overseas at the mercy of Washington’s shifting priorities. “I think we need to sit down and figure out, How do we do this?” she told me. “We are in a new situation that requires a flexibility the State Department doesn’t have.”

Barbara Bodine, who was the U.S. ambassador to Yemen during the Qaeda bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, told me she believes that much of the security American diplomats are forced to travel with is counterproductive. “There’s this idea that if we just throw more security guys at the problem, it will go away,” she said. “These huge convoys they force you to travel in, with a bristling personal security detail, give you the illusion of security, not real security. They just draw a lot of attention and make you a target. It’s better to fly under the radar.”

To some extent, the increasingly militarized trappings reflect a more aggressive posture: the United States now maintains a diplomatic presence in war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq that might once have been seen as too dangerous for an embassy. In the past, Washington instituted “tripwires” of deteriorating safety that were supposed to compel an evacuation. “When in doubt, pull them out” was an old State Department refrain. The United States pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, after it descended into civil war and anarchy, and did not return until 2002. It pulled out of Somalia in 1992, after the collapse of the government there, and has not returned. But in practice, the tripwires are ignored when there is a compelling political reason to stay. And nowhere more so than when the United States military is an occupying force.

Some argue that diplomacy and “soft power” are almost meaningless under such conditions. Diplomats may be useful in gathering intelligence, but that is not their primary purpose. For years, critics of the U.S. missions in Afghanistan have been arguing that the billions of dollars spent there, and the noble efforts to improve the lives of women, may prove wasted once the military is withdrawn. “We’re still living as if it were the 19th century, where governments control their territories and can guarantee the safety of a diplomatic mission,” Bushnell said. “But in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that is not true. If you can’t influence, you leave.”

Chris Stevens was not a rebel or a Lawrence of Arabia, as some people suggested after his death. He did not break the rules or fight with the security officers who kept watch over him. He was a skilled and thoughtful diplomat, and like many others, he chafed against some of the restrictions placed on him. He had an unusual gift for empathy, according to his friends and colleagues, and that allowed him to talk to people without seeming to pass judgment. It was a valuable skill for an American working in a region where American policy often inspires deep resentment. “Many American diplomats tend to stick to their own community, at least socially, but Chris really sought out non-American foreigners in Israel, and wanted to hear their point of view,” said Jonas Jolle, a Norwegian diplomat who worked in Jerusalem when Stevens was posted there from 2003 to 2006. “Chris always listened enthusiastically, and everyone felt he was on their side. This made him seem different to Arabs, even though he never criticized Bush administration policy. Chris was one of the few diplomats I’ve known who I really looked up to.”

When Stevens was named special envoy to Libya in April 2011, it was something of a homecoming. He had spent two years there, from 2007 to 2009, a crowning moment of a two-decade diplomatic career that had taken him to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. So he was thrilled when he found himself climbing the gangway onto a Greek cargo ship bound for Benghazi in early April 2011. It was a trip that became almost legendary, both for the Libyans who came to love him and for the myth that enveloped him after he died. The ship, crewed by crusty Greek and Romanian sailors, was far from luxurious: Stevens shared a bunk bed with a junior officer in a closet-size room. They soon found their toilet was broken, emitting foul bilge-water smells as the ship rolled on the Mediterranean. They were headed for a war zone, a city where Qaddafi sleeper cells and jihadists lurked in the streets. Their assignment, to act as liaison to the rebels, was wildly unorthodox by State Department standards; the new government was in disarray, and no one knew how the war would end. But Stevens was in heaven. “He found it romantic,” one of his colleagues on the ship told me. “It was an adventure; he said we were like 19th-century diplomats, who sailed to their posts.”

Stevens was not naïve. He had three decades of experience in the Middle East and knew Libya as well as any American. He spoke the Libyan dialect of Arabic fluently. He did not relish danger for its own sake. But in some ways, he really was sailing back to an earlier era, when American diplomats were less tied down. In Benghazi, Stevens and his team became de facto participants in a revolution. They moved into the Tibesti Hotel, a 15-story tower overlooking a fetid lagoon, where the lobby was a constant, promiscuous churn of rumors and frenzied meetings among gunmen, journalists and spies. Unlike all his previous posts, there was no embassy to enclose him. His room then was a dilapidated sixth-floor suite full of gaudy gilded furniture and a four-poster bed; he seemed amused to know that Abdullah el-Senussi, Qaddafi’s right-hand man, had often stayed there. Stevens reveled in his freedom. He met people in their homes, ate with them on the floor, Arab-style; cellphone photos were taken and quickly shot around the Internet. He went running every morning and often stopped to chat with people on the street, to the dismay of the security officer who ran alongside him. In August, after a top rebel commander was killed by Islamists, Stevens drove out to eastern Libya’s tribal heartland and spent hours sitting on the beach with five elders of the Harabi tribe. The men ate grilled lamb and talked in Arabic, sipping tea. Stevens did not push them for answers. He was building connections that would pay off someday. “Chris said Benghazi was his favorite posting ever,” said his friend Jennifer Larson, who later served as his deputy in Benghazi when Stevens became ambassador this spring. “He was very, very happy.”

In the rush to assign blame after Stevens’s death, it was largely overlooked that Stevens, as the top-ranking diplomat in Libya by that point, was the one responsible for making final decisions about what kind of security was appropriate there, how to use it and what qualified as safe and unsafe. He decided to make the fateful trip from the embassy in Tripoli back to Benghazi in September. That does not mean he was reckless. He knew the situation there far better than any of the people who have commented on it since his death. He knew that Libya’s government was both weak and politically sensitive; he had to weigh his own safety against the risk of looking like an occupier.

In early September, Stevens’s girlfriend, Henriette von Kaltenborn-Stachau, flew to Kabul for work. It was a routine trip, but Stevens was worried about her. “In his last e-mail to me, he said, ‘I hope you will be safe in Afghanistan, that’s the most important thing,’ ” she told me. “He never took danger lightly.” Stevens and von Kaltenborn-Stachau had been involved for almost a decade, on and off, though their careers prevented them being together as much as they wanted. On the night of Sept. 11, von Kaltenborn-Stachau told me, she had a frightening dream about Stevens. “In the dream, he was in a dark place, being pulled away from me,” she said. “He didn’t want to go. I didn’t want him to go, but something was pulling him away. I woke up, and saw the news from Benghazi.”

Two days after Stevens died, his body and those of the three other Americans killed in the Benghazi attack arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. As the families of the dead walked into a vast airplane hangar where 800 people were gathered, it was perfectly silent. “All you could hear was our footsteps,” says Anne Stevens, Chris’s younger sister, a pediatrician in Seattle. Four flag-draped coffins were carried in and laid on black tables. A military band played “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” At one point during the ceremony, Stevens’s mother, Mary Commanday, began to cry softly. President Obama sat down next to her and offered her his handkerchief. During his speech, Obama declared that the United States “will never retreat from the world.”

On the morning after Stevens’s death, Anne was the first family member Hillary Clinton was able to reach by phone. She listened as Clinton explained what had happened, and waited until there was silence on the other end of the line.

“Don’t let this stop the work he was doing,” his sister said.

Robert F. Worth is a staff writer for the magazine. He last wrote about a Louisiana pastor turned atheist.


Editor: Jillian Dunham

    Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?, NYT, 14.11.2012,






Dangerous Tension With Iran


January 12, 2012
The New York Times


With tensions rising over Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration has now warned the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz would provoke an American response. Earlier this week, international monitors confirmed that Iran has begun enriching uranium at a new underground plant. The United States and Europe are tightening sanctions to choke off Iranian oil revenues. On Wednesday, an Iranian nuclear scientist died in a bomb attack en route to work, and a government newspaper signaled that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps might retaliate.

Many officials, experts and commentators increasingly expect some kind of military confrontation. No one should want to see Iran, with its contempt for international law, acquire a nuclear weapon. But a military strike on the nuclear facilities would be a disaster.

We don’t know whether any mix of sanctions and inducements could persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. There is another option besides force: negotiations with the United States and other major powers over curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for ending sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Iran’s fractured leadership so far has not committed to serious talks, but President Obama and his allies have not paid enough attention to that alternative.

The United Nations Security Council demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium more than five years ago. Iran claims it only wants access to nuclear technology for electricity and other peaceful purposes. But that excuse is hollow. The major powers have said that power generation would be guaranteed if Iran abandons its weapons ambitions. Instead, Iran is still enriching uranium and mastering other technologies that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon. According to the latest report from United Nations inspectors, Iran has created computer models of nuclear explosions, conducted experiments on nuclear triggers and completed advanced research on a warhead that could be delivered by a medium-range missile.

An accelerating covert campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyberattacks and defections — carried out mainly by Israel, according to The Times — is slowing the program, but whether that is enough is unclear.

Economic pressure could be more effective if the United Nations Security Council ratcheted up its existing sanctions. A new round has been delayed by opposition from Russia and China. The United States and Europe have been imposing their own penalties, and Tehran’s recent threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz, gateway to one-fifth of the world’s oil trade, is an obvious sign of its growing economic desperation.

A new United States law that would penalize foreign companies that do business with Iran’s central bank — which they must do to buy Iranian oil — and an oil embargo that European Union foreign ministers plan to approve on Jan. 23 could have an even bigger impact. The Obama administration and European officials seem likely to phase in these sanctions in a way that limits the damage to the world economy. On Thursday, Japan pledged to buy less Iranian oil, China and South Korea were looking for alternative suppliers, and India’s intent was unclear. Tehran is more likely to respond if all the major importers apply pressure together.

The Americans and Europeans are working with Turkey to set up a new round of negotiations with Iran in Istanbul. The Iranians need to know that the economic pressure will not let up until they stop the nuclear program.

    Dangerous Tension With Iran, NYT, 12.1.2012,






America’s Deadly Dynamics With Iran


November 5, 2011
The New York Times


COMMUTING to work in Tehran is never easy, but it is particularly nerve-racking these days for the scientists of Shahid Beheshti University. It was a little less than a year ago when one of them, Majid Shahriari, and his wife were stuck in traffic at 7:40 a.m. and a motorcycle pulled up alongside the car. There was a faint “click” as a magnet attached to the driver’s side door. The huge explosion came a few seconds later, killing him and injuring his wife.

On the other side of town, 20 minutes later, a nearly identical attack played out against Mr. Shahriari’s colleague Fereydoon Abbasi, a nuclear scientist and longtime member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Perhaps because of his military training, Mr. Abbasi recognized what was happening, and pulled himself and his wife out the door just before his car turned into a fireball. Iran has charged that Israel was behind the attacks — and many outsiders believe the “sticky bombs” are the hallmarks of a Mossad hit.

Perhaps to make a point, Mr. Abbasi, now recovered from his injuries, has been made the director of Iran’s atomic energy program. He travels the world offering assurances that Iran’s interest in nuclear weapons is peaceful.

Even for the Iranian scientists who get to work safely, life isn’t a lot easier. A confidential study circulating through America’s national laboratories estimates that the Stuxnet computer worm — the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed against another country’s infrastructure — slowed Iran’s nuclear progress by one to two years. Now it has run its course. But there is no reason to believe the attacks are over.

Iran may be the most challenging test of the Obama administration’s focus on new, cheap technologies that could avoid expensive boots on the ground; drones are the most obvious, cyberweapons the least discussed. It does not quite add up to a new Obama Doctrine, but the methods are defining a new era of nearly constant confrontation and containment. Drones are part of a tactic to keep America’s adversaries off balance and preoccupied with defending themselves. And in the past two and a half years, they have been used more aggressively than ever. There are now five or six secret American drone bases around the world. Some recently discovered new computer worms suggest that a new, improved Stuxnet 2.0 may be in the works for Iran.

“There were a lot of mistakes made the first time,” said an American official, avoiding any acknowledgment that the United States played a role in the cyber attack on Iran. “This was a first-generation product. Think of Edison’s initial light bulbs, or the Apple II.”

Not surprisingly, the Iranians are refusing to sit back and take it — which is one reason many believe the long shadow war with Iran is about to ramp up dramatically. At the White House and the C.I.A., officials say the recently disclosed Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States — by blowing up a tony Georgetown restaurant frequented by senators, lobbyists and journalists — was just the tip of the iceberg. American intelligence officials now believe that the death of a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan earlier this year was an assassination. And they see evidence of other plots by the Quds Force, the most elite Iranian military unit, from Yemen to Latin America.

“The Saudi plot was clumsy, and we got lucky,” another American official who has reviewed the intelligence carefully said recently. “But we are seeing increasingly sophisticated Iranian activity like it, all around the world.” Much of this resembles the worst days of the cold war, when Americans and Soviets were plotting against each other — and killing each other — in a now hazy attempt to preserve an upper hand. But Iran is no superpower. And there are reasons to wonder whether, in the end, this shadow war is simply going to delay the inevitable: an Iranian bomb or, more likely, an Iranian capability to assemble a fairly crude weapon in a matter of weeks or months.

For understandable reasons, this is a question no one in the Obama administration will answer publicly. To admit that Iran may ultimately get a weapon is to admit failure; both George W. Bush and Barack Obama vowed they would never let Iran achieve nuclear arms capability, much less a bomb. Israelis have long argued that if Iran got too close, that could justify attacking Iran’s nuclear sites. Reports in Israel last week suggested that such a pre-emptive attack is once again being debated.

The worries focus on renewed hints from top Israeli officials that they will act unilaterally — even over American objections — if they judge that Iran is getting too close to a bomb. (It is worth noting that they have made similar noises every year since 2005, save for a brief hiatus when Stuxnet — which appears to have been a joint project of American and Israeli intelligence — was doing its work.)

To many members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — and, by the accounts of his former colleagues, to the Israeli leader himself — the Iran problem is 1939 all over again, an “existential threat.”

“WHEN Bibi talks about an existential threat,” one senior Israeli official said of Mr. Netanyahu recently, “he means the kind of threat the United States believed it faced when you believed the Nazis could get the bomb.”

Israelis worry that as Iran feels more isolated by sanctions and more threatened by the Arab Spring, which has not exactly broken Tehran’s way, it may view racing for a bomb as the only way to restore itself to its position as the most influential power in the Middle East. The fate of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi may strengthen that impulse.

“One should ask: would Europe have intervened in Libya if Qaddafi had possessed nuclear weapons?” the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said on army radio last week, referring to the Libyan leader’s decision to give up his program in 2003. “Would the U.S. have toppled Saddam Hussein if he had nuclear weapons?”

To many in the Obama administration, though, the Iranian threat seems more akin to 1949, when the Soviets tested their first nuclear device. That brought many confrontations that veered toward catastrophe, most notably the Cuban Missile Crisis. But ultimately the Soviets were contained. Inside the Pentagon and the National Security Council, there is a lot of work — all of it unacknowledged — about what a parallel containment strategy for Iran might look like.

The early elements of it are obvious: the antimissile batteries that the United States has spent billions of dollars installing on the territory of Arab allies, and a new Pentagon plan to put more ships and antimissile batteries into the Persian Gulf, in cooperation with six Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. It was the Saudi king who famously advised American diplomats in the cables revealed by WikiLeaks last year that the only Iran strategy that would work was one that “cut off the head of the snake.”

The big hitch in these containment strategies is that they are completely useless if Iran ever slips a bomb, or even some of its newly minted uranium fuel, to a proxy — Hezbollah, Hamas or some other terrorist group — raising the problem of ascertaining a bomb’s return address. When the Obama administration ran some tabletop exercises soon after coming to office, it was shocked to discover that the science of nuclear forensics was nowhere near as good in practice as it was on television dramas. So if a bomb went off in some American city, or in Riyadh or Tel Aviv, it could be weeks or months before it was ever identified as Iranian. Even then, confidence in the conclusion, officials say, might be too low for the president to order retaliation.

The wisdom of a containment strategy has also taken a hit since the revelation of the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador. Emerging from a classified briefing on the plot, a member of Congress said what struck him was that “this thing could have gotten Iran into a war, and yet we don’t know who ordered it.” There is increasing talk that it could have been a rogue element within the Quds Force. If so, what does that say about whether the Iranian leadership has as good a hand on the throttle of Iran’s nuclear research program as Washington has long assumed?

That issue may well come to a head this week after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog that has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with Iran’s nuclear establishment for a decade now, issues what may be one of its toughest reports ever.

IF the leaks are an accurate predictor of the final product, the report will describe in detail the evidence the I.A.E.A. has amassed suggesting that Iran has conducted tests on nuclear trigger devices, wrestled with designs that can miniaturize a nuclear device into the small confines of a warhead, and conducted abstruse experiments to spark a nuclear reaction. Most likely, the agency will stop short of accusing Iran of running a bomb program; instead, it will use the evidence to demand answers that it has long been refused about what it delicately calls “possible military dimensions” of the nuclear program.

Much of the work on those “possible military dimensions” is done, the I.A.E.A. believes, by scientists who have day jobs at Iran’s major universities, including one just across the street from what is believed to be the nuclear project’s administrative center. Among the scientists was Mr. Abbasi, the survivor of last November’s bomb attack, who was named in 2007 to the United Nations’ list of Iranian scientists subject to travel bans and economic sanctions because they were believed to be central to the bomb-development effort.

Mr. Abbasi, according to people familiar with the I.A.E.A.’s investigation, worked on calculations on increasing the yield of nuclear explosions, among other problems in manufacturing a weapon. He was a key scientist in the Iranian covert nuclear weapons program headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an academic and strong supporter of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. For the past decade, Mr. Fakhrizadeh has run programs — with names like “Project 110” and “Project 5,” they seem right out of a James Bond movie — that the West believes are a shell game hiding weapons work. Suspicions have been heightened by Iran’s refusal to allow him or his colleagues to be interviewed by the United Nations’ nuclear inspection teams. And since last year’s attacks — and another this past summer — Mr. Fakhrizadeh has gone completely underground.

No one expects the United Nations’ revelations of the evidence to prompt more action against Iran. Most governments have had access to this evidence for a while. The Iranians will say it is all fabrication, and because the agency will not reveal its sources, that charge could stick. The Chinese and the Russians have already protested to the I.A.E.A. head, Yukiya Amano, that revealing the evidence will harden Iran’s position. They oppose any new sanctions.

While the Obama administration may act unilaterally to shut down transactions with Iran’s central bank, officials concede that the only economic step that could give the mullahs pause would be a ban on Iranian oil exports. With oil already hovering around $93 a barrel, no one in the administration is willing to risk a step that could send prices soaring and, in the worst case, cause a confrontation at sea over a blockade.

For all the talk about how “all options are on the table,” Washington says a military strike isn’t worth the risk of war; the Israelis say there may be no other choice. But they have said “this is the last chance” every year since 2005.

All of which raises the question: how much more delay can be bought with a covert campaign of assassination, cyberattacks and sabotage?

Some more, but probably not much. It has taken the Iranians 20 years so far to get their nuclear act together — far longer than it took the United States and the Soviets in the ’40s, the Chinese and the Israelis in the ’60s, the Indians in the ’70s, and the Pakistanis and the North Koreans in more recent times. The problem is partly that they were scammed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani who sold them his country’s discards.

The assassination and the sabotage have taken a psychological toll, making scientists wonder if every trip to work may be their last, every line of code the beginning of a new round of destruction. Stuxnet was devilishly ingenious: it infected millions of computers, but did damage only when the code was transferred to special controllers that run centrifuges, which spin at supersonic speed when enriching uranium. When operators looked at their screens, everything looked normal. But downstairs in the plant, the centrifuges suddenly spun out of control and exploded, like small bombs. It took months for the Iranians to figure out what had happened.

But now the element of surprise is gone. The Iranians are digging their plants deeper underground, and enriching uranium at purities that will make it easier to race for a bomb. When Barack Obama was sworn into office, they had enough fuel on hand to produce a single weapon; today, by the I.A.E.A.’s own inventory, they have enough for at least four. And as the Quds Force has shown, sabotage and assassination is a two-way game, which may ratchet up one confrontation just as Americans have been exhausted by two others.


David E. Sanger is the chief Washington correspondent

of The New York Times.

America’s Deadly Dynamics With Iran, NYT, 5.11.2011,






Harsh Words From Turkey About Israel,

and From Iran About United States


September 22, 2011
The New York Times


UNITED NATIONS — Evidently heedless of American attempts to engineer a thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey used his appearance before the annual General Assembly on Thursday to enumerate a long list of grievances with Israel, a former regional ally.

Mr. Erdogan was the second major Middle Eastern leader addressing the General Assembly, with the widespread focus on the region’s most intractable problem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, due to culminate Friday with speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

Representatives of the so-called quartet — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — were still trying late Thursday to reach an agreement on a statement about moving peace negotiations forward, intended to counterbalance the controversial proposal for United Nations membership that Mr. Abbas has vowed to present. The future of the Quartet could be at risk, some diplomats suggested, with the Americans and the Europeans, close to an agreement, ready to abandon the other two members and issue a statement by themselves. It could go down to the very moment after the Netanyahu and Abbas speeches, the diplomats said.

At the General Assembly, a couple of hours before Mr. Erdogan spoke, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivered one of his characteristic anti-Western broadsides, embroidered with tinges of religious mysticism. He blamed the United States, Israel and Europe for the global recession and a list of other ills.

He also suggested that the American military’s killing of Osama bin Laden last May and the disposal of his body at sea were part of a dark conspiracy to conceal the real perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks provoked what has become a ritual large-scale walkout of delegations, led by the United States.

Mr. Erdogan, describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “bleeding wound” that the international community can no longer accept, accused Israel of thwarting all attempts to solve the problem. From nuclear weapons to control of the occupied territories to humanitarian aid, Mr. Erdogan said, Israel has contradicted the wishes and norms of the rest of the world.

“If you want to send a box of tomatoes to Palestine, this is subject to approval from Israel, and I don’t think that is humanitarian,” Mr. Erdogan said, suggesting that the new spirit of change in the Middle East meant Israel could no longer continue to foster strife.

The Turkish leader repeated a drumbeat of accusations against the Israelis that he has leveled for months, and there was no immediate reaction from Israel.

The tension is rooted in differences over the Gaza Strip, particularly a May 2010 raid by the Israeli military on a Turkish-organized flotilla trying to run the Gaza blockade, which left eight Turks and a Turkish-American dead. Turkey rejected a United Nations report that found the blockade legal but said Israel had used excessive force.

Mr. Erdogan’s veiled threats to take action against joint efforts by Israel and Cyprus over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean did elicit a response from Demetris Christofias, the president of Cyprus, divided into hostile Turkish and Greek halves. He called Turkish naval maneuvers in the area “provocative and a real danger for further complications in the region.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad, appearing before the General Assembly for the seventh year in a row, said poverty, homelessness and denial of basic rights were traceable to “greed for materialism in the United States and Europe.”

Iran has been estranged from the United States since the Islamic Revolution more than 30 years ago, and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech has become something of a signature event at the annual session. There were no surprises in either his criticisms or his singular interpretation of world events.

As he has done in previous speeches, Mr. Ahmadinejad raised questions about the Holocaust, blaming the West for using it as an excuse for unwavering support for Israel and for the oppression of the Palestinian people. “They threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and Sept. 11 with sanctions and military action?” he said.

By the time he got to that line in his 30-minute speech, the low-level American and European diplomats who had been there were no longer around.

The United States delegation was the first to leave when Mr. Ahmadinejad referred to the Sept. 11 attacks as “mysterious” and suggested that the decision to kill Bin Laden, instead of bringing him to trial, was intended to bury the truth of who sent the planes to attack New York and Washington. “Is there any classified material secret that must remain a secret?” he said.

After the Europeans walked out, the hall, not terribly full in the first place, was mostly empty. Oddly, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, whose government has repeatedly blamed Iran rather than domestic ills for inflaming the Shiite population there, stuck around.

The United States quickly condemned the speech, as did many other Western governments and nongovernmental organizations. “Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people’s aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories,” said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for the United States Mission to the United Nations.

The Iranian leader, whose previous visits to New York have been contentious, generated less interest this year. Though he did inspire protests outside the United Nations and his Midtown Manhattan hotel, his power clashes at home with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have cast some doubt over the extent of his authority.

That doubt, in turn, has made him personally a less threatening figure, despite significant international concerns about important issues like the possibility that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.


Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting.

    Harsh Words From Turkey About Israel, and From Iran About United States,
    NYT, 22.9.2011,






Peace Now, or Never


September 21, 2011
The New York Times



AS the United Nations General Assembly opens this year, I feel uneasy. An unnecessary diplomatic clash between Israel and the Palestinians is taking shape in New York, and it will be harmful to Israel and to the future of the Middle East.

I know that things could and should have been different.

I truly believe that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure a more stable Middle East and to grant Israel the security and well-being it desires. As tensions grow, I cannot but feel that we in the region are on the verge of missing an opportunity — one that we cannot afford to miss.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, plans to make a unilateral bid for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations on Friday. He has the right to do so, and the vast majority of countries in the General Assembly support his move. But this is not the wisest step Mr. Abbas can take.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared publicly that he believes in the two-state solution, but he is expending all of his political effort to block Mr. Abbas’s bid for statehood by rallying domestic support and appealing to other countries. This is not the wisest step Mr. Netanyahu can take.

In the worst-case scenario, chaos and violence could erupt, making the possibility of an agreement even more distant, if not impossible. If that happens, peace will definitely not be the outcome.

The parameters of a peace deal are well known and they have already been put on the table. I put them there in September 2008 when I presented a far-reaching offer to Mr. Abbas.

According to my offer, the territorial dispute would be solved by establishing a Palestinian state on territory equivalent in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that take into account the new realities on the ground.

The city of Jerusalem would be shared. Its Jewish areas would be the capital of Israel and its Arab neighborhoods would become the Palestinian capital. Neither side would declare sovereignty over the city’s holy places; they would be administered jointly with the assistance of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The Palestinian refugee problem would be addressed within the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The new Palestinian state would become the home of all the Palestinian refugees just as the state of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. Israel would, however, be prepared to absorb a small number of refugees on humanitarian grounds.

Because ensuring Israel’s security is vital to the implementation of any agreement, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and it would not form military alliances with other nations. Both states would cooperate to fight terrorism and violence.

These parameters were never formally rejected by Mr. Abbas, and they should be put on the table again today. Both Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu must then make brave and difficult decisions.

We Israelis simply do not have the luxury of spending more time postponing a solution. A further delay will only help extremists on both sides who seek to sabotage any prospect of a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution.

Moreover, the Arab Spring has changed the Middle East, and unpredictable developments in the region, such as the recent attack on Israel’s embassy in Cairo, could easily explode into widespread chaos. It is therefore in Israel’s strategic interest to cement existing peace agreements with its neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.

In addition, Israel must make every effort to defuse tensions with Turkey as soon as possible. Turkey is not an enemy of Israel. I have worked closely with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In spite of his recent statements and actions, I believe that he understands the importance of relations with Israel. Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Netanyahu must work to end this crisis immediately for the benefit of both countries and the stability of the region.

In Israel, we are sorry for the loss of life of Turkish citizens in May 2010, when Israel confronted a provocative flotilla of ships bound for Gaza. I am sure that the proper way to express these sentiments to the Turkish government and the Turkish people can be found.

The time for true leadership has come. Leadership is tested not by one’s capacity to survive politically but by the ability to make tough decisions in trying times.

When I addressed international forums as prime minister, the Israeli people expected me to present bold political initiatives that would bring peace — not arguments outlining why achieving peace now is not possible. Today, such an initiative is more necessary than ever to prove to the world that Israel is a peace-seeking country.

The window of opportunity is limited. Israel will not always find itself sitting across the table from Palestinian leaders like Mr. Abbas and the prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who object to terrorism and want peace. Indeed, future Palestinian leaders might abandon the idea of two states and seek a one-state solution, making reconciliation impossible.

Now is the time. There will be no better one. I hope that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas will meet the challenge.


Ehud Olmert was prime minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009.

    Peace Now, or Never, NYT, 21.9.2011,






U.N. okays military action on Libya


12:54am EDT
By Maria Golovnina and Patrick Worsnip


TRIPOLI/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations authorized military strikes to curb Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, hours after he threatened to storm the rebel bastion of Benghazi overnight, showing "no mercy, no pity."

"We will come. House by house, room by room," Gaddafi said in a radio address to the eastern city late on Thursday.

Al Jazeera television showed thousands of people listening to the speech in a central Benghazi square, then erupting in celebration after the U.N. vote, waving anti-Gaddafi tricolors and chanting defiance of the man who has ruled for four decades.

Fireworks burst over the city and gunfire rang out.

The U.N. Security Council, meeting in emergency session, passed a resolution endorsing a no-fly zone to halt government troops now around 100 km (60 miles) from Benghazi. It also authorized "all necessary measures" -- code for military action -- to protect civilians against Gaddafi's forces.

But time was clearly running short for the city that has been the heart of Libya's month-old revolution.

French diplomatic sources said military action could follow within hours, and could include France, Britain and possibly the United States and one or more Arab states; but a U.S. military official said no immediate U.S. action was expected.

While other countries or NATO may play roles in military action, U.S. officials expect the United States with its extensive air and sea forces would do the heavy lifting in a campaign that may include airstrikes on tanks and artillery.

Gaddafi warned Benghazi residents that only those who lay down their arms before his advancing troops would be spared the vengeance awaiting 'rats and dogs'.

"It's over. The issue has been decided," Gaddafi said. "We are coming tonight...We will find you in your closets.

"We will have no mercy and no pity."



Residents said the Libyan air force unleashed three air raids on the city of 670,000 on Thursday and there has been fierce fighting along the Mediterranean coastal highway.

Ten of the Council's 15 member states voted in favor of the resolution, with Russia, China and Germany among the five that abstained. There were no votes against the resolution, which was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and the United States.

Apart from military action, it expands sanctions against Gaddafi and associates imposed last month. Among firms whose assets it orders frozen are the Libyan National Oil Corp and the central bank.

U.S. President Barack Obama called British and French counterparts David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy and agreed to coordinate closely on their next steps.

Libya said the resolution, which also demands a ceasefire by government forces, was not worth the paper it was written on.

Rebel National Council head Mustafa Abdel Jalil told Al Jazeera television air strikes, beyond the no-fly zone, were essential to stop Gaddafi.

"We stand on firm ground. We will not be intimidated by these lies and claims... We will not settle for anything but liberation from this regime."

It was unclear if Gaddafi's threat to seize the city in the night was anything more than bluster. But at the very least it increased the sense that a decisive moment had arrived in an uprising that only months ago had seemed inconceivable.

Some in the Arab world sense a Gaddafi victory could turn the tide in the region, weakening pro-democracy movements that have unseated autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and raised mass protests in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.

Gaddafi's Defense Ministry warned of swift retaliation, even beyond Libyan frontiers, to any military action against the oil-exporting nation.

"Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military (facilities) will become targets of Libya's counter-attack," the ministry said in a statement.



John Drake, senior risk consultant at UK-based consultancy AKE said he did not think Gaddafi would strike against oil facilities or oil companies. "He would be hurting himself."

"We don't think they have the capability to impose a no-fly zone over the whole country immediately, although they could try to impose one over Benghazi and maybe also Tripoli," he said.

Proposals for action could include no-fly and no-drive zones, a maritime exclusion zone, jamming army communications and intelligence help. Air strikes would almost certainly be launched to knock out Libyan radar and air defenses.

An Italian government source told Reuters Italy was ready to make its military bases available. The airbase at Sigonella in Sicily, which provides logistical support for the United States Sixth Fleet, is one of the closest NATO bases to Libya.

Past no-fly zones have had mixed success.

The U.N. imposed a no-fly zone over Bosnia in the 1990s, although some analysts say the measure did nothing to stop massacres such as the 1995 slaughter of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica.

Former British foreign minister David Owen saw the vote as reflecting a serious division in NATO and the EU, with Germany abstaining and declaring that the venture carried "considerable dangers and risks."

"It's very late for this no-fly zone," Owen said. "Gaddafi's forces are very close to Benghazi and may now push on."

The resolution followed a sharp shift in tone by the United States, which had resisted calls to military action. Diplomats said Washington's change of mind was influenced by an appeal to action by the Arab league and the prospect of a Gaddafi government flush with oil wealth fomenting unrest in the region.

"Mission creep" poses a serious danger. Western powers, chastened by protracted wars in two other Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, would be wary of getting drawn into any ground action in Libya.

Rebels have retreated over the last two weeks as Gaddafi, dubbed the 'mad dog of the Middle East' by president Ronald Reagan in 1986, has brought air power and heavy armor to bear.

Residential areas of Ajdabiyah, a strategic town on the coast road to Benghazi, were the scene of heavy fighting on Thursday and around 30 people were killed, Al Arabiya reported.

On the approaches to Ajdabiyah, burned-out cars lay by the roadside while Libyan government forces showed the foreign media artillery, tanks and mobile rocket launchers -- much heavier weapons than those used by the rebels.

In Libya's third city, Misrata, about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, rebels and residents said they were preparing for a new attack by Libyan troops, who had shelled the coastal city overnight. A government spokesman said Gaddafi's forces expected to be in control of Misrata by Friday morning.


(Additional reporting by a Reuters reporter in Benghazi,

Michael Georgy in Tripoli,

Mariam Karouny and Tarek Amara in Tunisia,

Louis Charbonneau

and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, John Irish in Paris;

Writing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Michael Roddy)

    U.N. okays military action on Libya, R, 18.3.2011,






U.N. Security Council

imposes sanctions on Gaddafi



Sat Feb 26, 2011
11:35pm EST
By Maria Golovnina
and Louis Charbonneau


TRIPOLI/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed travel and asset sanctions on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and close aides, ratcheting up pressure on him to quit before any more blood is shed in a popular revolt against his rule.

It also adopted an arms embargo and called for the deadly crackdown against anti-Gaddafi protesters to be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution of anyone responsible for killing civilians.

The 15-nation council passed the resolution hours after Gaddafi's police abandoned parts of the capital Tripoli to the revolt that has swept Libya and the United States bluntly told him he must go.

In the oil-rich east around the second city of Benghazi, freed a week ago by a disparate coalition of people power and defecting military units, a former minister of Gaddafi announced the formation of an "interim government" to reunite the country.

To the west in Tripoli, the 68-year-old Brother Leader's redoubt was shrinking. Reuters correspondents found residents in some neighborhoods of the capital barricading their streets and proclaiming open defiance after security forces melted away.

Western leaders, their rhetoric emboldened by evacuations that have sharply reduced the number of their citizens stranded in the oilfields and cities of the sprawling desert state, spoke out more clearly to say Gaddafi's 41-year rule must now end.

"When a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now," an aide to U.S. President Barack Obama said of phone talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over Libya.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the Security Council measures against Gaddafi and 15 other Libyans, including members of his family, were "biting sanctions" and that all those who committed crimes would be held to account.

"Those who slaughter civilians will be held personally accountable," Rice told the council after the vote. Speaking to reporters later, she praised the council's "unity of purpose."

The death toll from 10 days of violence in Libya is estimated by diplomats at about 2,000.

Talk of possible military action by foreign governments remained vague, however. It was unclear how long Gaddafi, with some thousands of loyalists -- including his tribesmen and military units commanded by his sons -- might hold out against rebel forces comprised of youthful gunmen and mutinous soldiers.

London-based Algerian lawyer Saad Djebbar, who knows a large number of Gaddafi's top officials, said that for Gaddafi staying in power had become impossible.

"It's about staying alive. (Gaddafi's) time is over," he said. "But how much damage he will cause before leaving is the question."



One key element in the opposition's efforts to unseat him may be tribal loyalties, always a factor in the desert nation of six million and one which Gaddafi, despite official rhetoric to the contrary, tended to reinforce down the years.

His former justice minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Ajleil, now gone over to the opposition in Benghazi, was quoted by the online edition of the Quryna newspaper as saying that an interim government, whose status remained unclear, would "forgive" his large Gaddadfa tribe for "crimes" committed by the leader.

Such declarations may be intended to erode Gaddafi's efforts to rally supporters into a do-or-die defense of the old guard.

Some of those closest to Gaddafi have been deserting him and joining the opposition. On Saturday, Libya's envoy to the United States told Reuters he backed Abud Ajleil's caretaker team -- though it was unclear how much popular support that would have.

One of Gaddafi's sons, London-educated Saif al-Islam, again appeared on television on Saturday to deny that much of Libya was in revolt. But he also said: "What the Libyan nation is going through has opened the door to all options, and now the signs of civil war and foreign interference have started."

Gaddafi, once branded a "mad dog" by Washington for his support of militant groups worldwide, has been embraced by the West in recent years in return for renouncing some weapons programs and, critically, for opening up Libya's oilfields.

While money has flowed into Libya, many people, especially in the long-restive and oil-rich east, have seen little benefit and, inspired by the popular overthrow of veteran strongmen in Tunisia and Egypt, on either side of their country, they rose up to demand better conditions and political freedoms.

Particular condemnation has been reserved for aerial bombing by government forces and for reported indiscriminate attacks by Gaddafi loyalists and mercenaries on unarmed protesters.

"Gaddafi is the enemy of God!" a crowd chanted on Saturday in Tajoura, a poor neighborhood of Tripoli, at the funeral of a man they said was shot down by Gaddafi loyalists the day before.

Now, residents said, those security forces had disappeared.

Locals had erected barricades of rocks and palm trees across rubbish-strewn streets, and graffiti covered many walls. Bullet holes in the walls of the houses bore testimony to the violence.

The residents, still unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals, said troops fired on demonstrators who tried to march from Tajoura to central Green Square overnight, killing at least five people. The number could not be independently confirmed.

Libyan state television again showed a crowd chanting their loyalty to Gaddafi in Tripoli's Green Square on Saturday. But journalists there estimated their number at scarcely 200.



From Misrata, a major city 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli, residents said by telephone that a thrust by forces loyal to Gaddafi, operating from the local airport, had been rebuffed with bloodshed by the opposition.

"There were violent clashes last night and in the early hours of the morning near the airport," one resident, Mohammed, told Reuters. "An extreme state of alert prevails in the city."

He said several mercenaries from Chad had been detained by rebels in Misrata. The report could not be verified but was similar to accounts elsewhere of Gaddafi deploying fighters brought in from African states where he has long had allies.

Protesters in Zawiyah, an oil refining town on the main coastal highway 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, have fought off government forces for several nights.

At Tripoli's international airport, thousands of desperate foreign workers besieged the main gate trying to leave the country as police used batons and whips to keep them out.

Britain and France followed the United States in closing their embassies. Britain sent in air force troop carriers to take some 150 oil workers out of camps in the desert.

Libya supplies 2 percent of the world's oil, the bulk of it from wells and supply terminals in the east. The prospect of it being shut off -- as well as speculation that the unrest in the Arab world could spread to the major exporters of the Gulf -- has pushed oil prices up to highs not seen in over two years.


(Additional reporting by Yvonne Bell

and Chris Helgren in Tripoli,

Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Souhail Karam in Rabat,

Dina Zayed

and Caroline Drees in Cairo, Tom Pfeiffer,

Alexander Dziadosz

and Mohammed Abbas in Benghazi,

Arshad Mohammed in Washington,

Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations,

Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall in London;

Editing by Ralph Gowling)

    U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions on Gaddafi, R, 26.2.2011,






U.S. Trying to Pick Winners

in New Mideast


February 24, 2011

The New York Times




WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration grapples with a cascade of uprisings in the Middle East, it has come to a stark recognition: the region’s monarchs are likely to survive; its presidents are more likely to fall.

In the rapidly changing map that stretches from Morocco to Iran, two presidents have already tumbled: Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. Administration officials said they believe that Yemen’s authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is in an increasingly tenuous position.

Yet in Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has so far managed to weather a surge of unrest, winning American support, even though his security forces were brutal in their crackdown of protesters. Officials believe that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is also unlikely to be dethroned, while the emirs of the Persian Gulf have so far escaped unrest. Even in Jordan, where serious protests erupted, King Abdullah II has maneuvered deftly to stay in power, though he still has to contend with a restive Palestinian population.

This pattern of kings holding on to power is influencing the administration’s response to the crisis: the United States has sent out senior diplomats in recent days to offer the monarchs reassurance and advice — even those who lead the most stifling governments. But it is keeping its distance from autocratic presidents as they fight to hold power.

By all accounts, that is more a calculation of American interests than anything else.

“What the monarchies have going for them are royal families that allow them to stand above the fray, to a certain extent,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “It allows them to sack the government without sacking themselves.”

Many of the monarchs have run governments every bit as repressive as the presidents’. And the American calculation of who is likely to hang on to power has as much to do with the religious, demographic and economic makeups of the countries as with the nature of the governments.

Arab presidents pretend to be democratically chosen, even though most of their elections are rigged. Their veneer of legitimacy vanishes when pent-up grievances in their societies explode. Most of the presidents oversee more populous countries, without the oil wealth of the gulf monarchies, which would enable them to placate their populations with tax cuts and pay raises, like the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan have done recently.

The Americans acknowledge that they have no choice but to support countries like Saudi Arabia, and that all of the situations could change rapidly.

A case in point is Libya, where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — neither a king nor a president — has been brought to the verge of collapse with dizzying speed.

On Thursday, the administration failed again to evacuate diplomats and other American citizens from Libya. A ferry chartered by the United States government remained tied up at a pier in the capital, Tripoli, unable to sail to Malta because of heavy seas in the Mediterranean.

The 285 passengers are safe, according to the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, but they cannot leave the ship, which he said is guarded by Libyan security forces. A hotel across the street from the pier has been the site of gun battles between rebels and loyalists of Colonel Qaddafi, witnesses said.

The stalled evacuation has led the Obama administration to temper its condemnations of Colonel Qaddafi’s government, because officials worry that the Libyan government could take Americans hostage. But Mr. Crowley said Thursday that the United States would support a European proposal to expel Libya from the United Nations Human Rights Council, when it meets in Geneva on Monday.

Unlike in the case of Egypt, where President Obama spoke by phone with Mr. Mubarak several times during the crisis there, neither he nor any other American official has spoken with Colonel Qaddafi since the violence erupted. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to reach the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, Mr. Crowley said, citing a technical glitch.

The under secretary of state for political affairs, William J. Burns, did speak twice with Mr. Koussa, he said, and conveyed the administration’s “concern” that Libya continue to cooperate with the evacuation.

The spotty American communication with Libya contrasts with the regular phone calls Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have held with Arab monarchs. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pressed Mr. Obama in at least two conversations to back Mr. Mubarak. Since his ouster, an administration official said, Saudi officials have expressed some misgivings about their support for the former Egyptian leader.

So far, the kings appear to be hanging on.

The administration is sanguine that the Saudi royal family will survive any upheaval, though some acknowledge that they misread the prospects for change in Egypt. Earlier this week, King Abdullah, returning home from three months of medical treatment abroad, announced a $10 billion increase in welfare spending to help young people marry, buy homes and open businesses.

The administration has urged Saudi Arabia not to impede King Hamad’s attempt to undertake reforms in Bahrain, an island connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway and dependent on the Saudis for political and economic support. Saudi Arabia is rattled by the prospect of Bahrain’s Shiite Muslim majority’s gaining more political power, at the expense of its Sunni rulers, in part because Saudi Arabia has a substantial Shiite population in its east.

American officials have sought to keep the focus on what they insist have been concessions made by Bahrain, where the Navy’s Fifth Fleet is stationed, as a sign that the protests can prod the king, and the crown prince who will head the dialogue with the protesters, in the right direction.

Similarly, in Jordan, King Abdullah, who faces a tricky situation because of his majority Palestinian population, has signaled a willingness to cede some power to an elected government or parliament. American officials and independent experts say that they think that could allow him to hang on to power. The administration’s clear hope is that all these kingdoms will eventually be constitutional monarchies.

“That approach to Jordan or Bahrain is the right approach; these are countries that have moved in the right direction, but not enough,” said Elliott Abrams, a Middle East adviser in the Bush administration who has been a frequent critic of the Obama administration. “Constitutional monarchy is a form of democracy.”

There has been far less unrest in other Persian Gulf states, like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Kuwait — in part, experts say, because they are essentially regal welfare states, where citizens pay no taxes and are looked after by the government. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, when one citizen marries another citizen, the government helps to pay for the wedding and even to buy a home.

Even so, an administration official noted, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, recently toured less prosperous parts of the United Arab Emirates to hold town-hall-style meetings — at least a nod to democratic rule.

“The truly wealthy societies like Qatar, the U.A.E. and Kuwait have greater advantages,” said Ted Kattouf, a former United States ambassador to Syria. In many ways, he added, “the monarchies have more legitimacy than the republics.”

In Yemen, a lack of legitimacy is plaguing President Saleh and the prospect of instability there poses national security problems for the United States, which has had the government’s support for counterterrorism operations. Protesters are demanding his resignation even after he pledged not to seek re-election. The administration is pushing Mr. Saleh — a crafty authoritarian who has manipulated factions in his country to cling to power for 30 years — to revive a stalled effort at constitutional reform, though an official expressed pessimism about the likelihood of progress.

“The republics — and hence, the presidents — are the most vulnerable because they’re supposed to be democracies but ultimately are not,” said an Arab diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They pretend people have a voice, but this voice doesn’t exist. With the monarchy, no one’s pretending there’s a democracy.”

    U.S. Trying to Pick Winners in New Mideast, NYT, 24.2.2011,






U.S. vetoes U.N. draft

condemning Israeli settlements


Fri, Feb 18 2011
By Louis Charbonneau


UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Friday vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian land after the Palestinians refused a compromise offer from Washington.

The U.S. move was welcomed by American pro-Israel groups, some of which have previously criticized President Barack Obama's administration for what they see as its record of lukewarm support for Israel.

U.N. diplomats say the Palestinian Authority, which has been trying to defend itself against critics who accuse it of caving in to the Americans and Israelis during peace talks, was eager to show that it can stand up to Washington.

The other 14 Security Council members voted in favor of the draft resolution. But the United States, as one of the five permanent council members with the power to block any action by the Security Council, voted against it and struck it down.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told council members that the veto "should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity." The U.S. position is that continued Israeli settlements lack legitimacy, she said.

But Rice said the draft "risks hardening the position of both sides" and reiterated the U.S. view that settlements and other contentious issues should be resolved in direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The resolution described the settlements as "illegal" and urged the Jewish state to "immediately and completely" halt all settlement activities. Diplomats said the views contained in the resolution, which would have been legally binding had it passed, are generally supported by the Obama administration.

However, they said, the United States refuses to allow the Security Council to intervene with binding resolutions on issues it feels belongs to direct peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Israel "deeply appreciates" the U.S. decision to veto the resolution.

Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben, opposing the resolution, urged the Palestinians to "return to negotiations without preconditions." U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed last year after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlements.

The Palestinians say continued building flouts the internationally backed peace plan that will permit them to create a viable, contiguous state on the land after a treaty with Israel to end its occupation and 62 years of conflict.

Israel says this is an excuse for avoiding peace talks and a precondition never demanded before during 17 years of negotiation, which has so far produced no agreement.



World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder thanked Obama, saying his veto showed "America's support for the rights of the Jewish state and for the Middle East peace process." Other pro-Israel groups also praised Obama.

Obama's offer to support a non-binding Security Council statement chiding Israel over the settlements instead of a binding resolution had been criticized by pro-Israel lobby groups and some members of the U.S. Congress.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of Britain, France and Germany, condemned Israeli settlements as "illegal under international law."

He added that the European Union's three biggest nations hope that an independent state of Palestine will join the United Nations as a new member state by September 2011.

Several EU nations, including Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden, were among the resolution's more than 100 co-sponsors.

The Palestinian Authority earlier on Friday decided to insist that the resolution be put to the council, and rejected the U.S. compromise offer despite a telephone call from Obama to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.

The permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said the U.S. veto could send the wrong signal to Israel. "We fear ... that the message sent today may be one that further encourages Israeli intransigence and impunity," he said.

Mansour declined to comment on media reports that Obama warned Abbas of repercussions if the Palestinians did not withdraw the draft resolution.

The decision to put it to a vote was made unanimously by the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive and the central committee of Abbas's Fatah movement at a meeting in Ramallah on Friday to discuss Obama's appeal to Abbas.

"The Palestinian leadership has decided to proceed to the U.N. Security Council, to pressure Israel to halt settlement activities. The decision was taken despite American pressure," said Wasel Abu Yousef, a PLO executive member.

New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying the U.S. veto undermined international law and suggested the Obama administration was being hypocritical.

"President Obama wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes settlements, but he won't let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a legally binding way," said HRW's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson.


(Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations

and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; editing by Eric Beech)

    U.S. vetoes U.N. draft condemning Israeli settlements, R, 18.2.2011,






What Egypt Can Teach America


February 12, 2011
The New York Times


It’s a new day in the Arab world — and, let’s hope, in American relations to the Arab world.

The truth is that the United States has been behind the curve not only in Tunisia and Egypt for the last few weeks, but in the entire Middle East for decades. We supported corrupt autocrats as long as they kept oil flowing and weren’t too aggressive toward Israel. Even in the last month, we sometimes seemed as out of touch with the region’s youth as a Ben Ali or a Mubarak. Recognizing that crafting foreign policy is 1,000 times harder than it looks, let me suggest four lessons to draw from our mistakes:

1.) Stop treating Islamic fundamentalism as a bogyman and allowing it to drive American foreign policy. American paranoia about Islamism has done as much damage as Muslim fundamentalism itself.

In Somalia, it led the U.S. to wink at a 2006 Ethiopian invasion that was catastrophic for Somalis and resulted in more Islamic extremism there. And in Egypt, our foreboding about Islamism paralyzed us and put us on the wrong side of history.

We tie ourselves in knots when we act as if democracy is good for the United States and Israel but not for the Arab world. For far too long, we’ve treated the Arab world as just an oil field.

Too many Americans bought into a lazy stereotype that Arab countries were inhospitable for democracy, or that the beneficiaries of popular rule would be extremists like Osama bin Laden. Tunisians and Egyptians have shattered that stereotype, and the biggest loser will be Al Qaeda. We don’t know what lies ahead for Egypt — and there is a considerable risk that those in power will attempt to preserve Mubarakism without Mr. Mubarak — but already Egyptians have demonstrated the power of nonviolence in a way that undermines the entire extremist narrative. It will be fascinating to see whether more Palestinians embrace mass nonviolent protests in the West Bank as a strategy to confront illegal Israeli settlements and land grabs.

2.) We need better intelligence, the kind that is derived not from intercepting a president’s phone calls to his mistress but from hanging out with the powerless. After the 1979 Iranian revolution, there was a painful post-mortem about why the intelligence community missed so many signals, and I think we need the same today.

In fairness, we in the journalistic community suffered the same shortcoming: we didn’t adequately convey the anger toward Hosni Mubarak. Egypt is a reminder not to be suckered into the narrative that a place is stable because it is static.

3.) New technologies have lubricated the mechanisms of revolt. Facebook and Twitter make it easier for dissidents to network. Mobile phones mean that government brutality is more likely to end up on YouTube, raising the costs of repression. The International Criminal Court encourages dictators to think twice before ordering troops to open fire.

Maybe the most critical technology — and this is tough for a scribbler like myself to admit — is television. It was Arab satellite television broadcasts like those of Al Jazeera that broke the government monopoly on information in Egypt. Too often, Americans scorn Al Jazeera (and its English service is on few cable systems), but it played a greater role in promoting democracy in the Arab world than anything the United States did.

We should invest more in these information technologies. The best way to nurture changes in Iran, North Korea and Cuba will involve broadcasts, mobile phones and proxy servers to leap over Internet barriers. Congress has allocated small sums to promote global Internet freedom, and this initiative could be a much more powerful tool in our foreign policy arsenal.

4.) Let’s live our values. We pursued a Middle East realpolitik that failed us. Condi Rice had it right when she said in Egypt in 2005: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.”

I don’t know which country is the next Egypt. Some say it’s Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Syria or Saudi Arabia. Others suggest Cuba or China are vulnerable. But we know that in many places there is deep-seated discontent and a profound yearning for greater political participation. And the lesson of history from 1848 to 1989 is that uprisings go viral and ricochet from nation to nation. Next time, let’s not sit on the fence.

After a long wishy-washy stage, President Obama got it pitch-perfect on Friday when he spoke after the fall of Mr. Mubarak. He forthrightly backed people power, while making clear that the future is for Egyptians to decide. Let’s hope that reflects a new start not only for Egypt but also for American policy toward the Arab world. Inshallah.

    What Egypt Can Teach America, NYT, 12.2.2011,






The Return of Pushing Democracy


February 12, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The cheers of Tahrir Square were heard around the world. But if you listened carefully, you might have heard cheering from another quarter 7,000 miles from Cairo as well, in Dallas.

The revolution in Egypt has reopened a long-simmering debate about the “freedom agenda” that animated George W. Bush’s presidency. Was he right after all, as his supporters have argued? Are they claiming credit he does not deserve? And has President Obama picked up the mantle of democracy and made it his own?

The debate in Washington, and Dallas, tends to overlook the reality that revolutions in far-off countries are for the most part built from the ground up, not triggered by policy made in the halls of the West Wing. But the lessons of the Egyptian uprising will ripple through American politics, policymaking and history-shaping for some time to come.

President Bush, after all, made “ending tyranny in our world” the centerpiece of his second inaugural address, and, although he pursued it selectively, he considers it one of his signature legacies. The very notion of democracy promotion became so associated with him, and with the war in Iraq, that Democrats believed that it was now discredited. Never mind that Republican and Democratic presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan, had championed liberty overseas; by the time Mr. Bush left office it had become a polarizing concept.

Mr. Obama was seen by some supporters as the realist counterbalance who would put aside the zealous rhetoric in favor of a more nuanced approach. He preached the virtues of democracy in speeches, but did not portray it as the mission of his presidency. When the Green Movement protesters of Iran took to the streets of Tehran, Mr. Obama’s relatively muted response generated strong criticism.

By contrast, foreign policy specialists said, Mr. Obama’s embrace of the Egyptian protesters in the last couple of weeks, if cautious at times and confused by conflicting signals from others in his administration, seemed to suggest a turning point.

“He got on the right side of this thing when a lot of the foreign policy establishment was cautioning otherwise,” said Robert Kagan, a Brookings Institution scholar who long before the revolution helped assemble a nonpartisan group of policy experts to press for democratic change in Egypt. “And he got it right. This may strengthen his confidence the next time this kind of thing happens.”

For Mr. Obama, the challenge may be to define the spread of liberty and democracy as a nonpartisan American goal, removing it from the political debate that has surrounded it in recent years. Democrats who have long worked on the issue have expressed hope that he can shed the goal’s association with Mr. Bush, while framing it in a way that accounts for the mistakes of the last administration.

“The stirring events in Egypt and Tunisia should reinforce what has always been a bipartisan ambition because they are vivid reminders of universal democratic aspirations and America’s role in supporting those aspirations,” said Kenneth Wollock, president of the National Democratic Institute, a government-financed group affiliated with the Democratic Party that promotes civil society abroad.

Finding the right balance has never been easy. Mr. Bush focused on democracy as a goal after the invasion of Iraq found none of the weapons of mass destruction reported by American intelligence agencies. He elevated it to a central theme in his second inaugural address, according to advisers, to infuse the war on terrorism with a positive mission beyond simply hunting down terrorists. His argument was that more freedom would undercut radicalism.

But there was always an internal tension in his administration. Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld makes clear in his new memoir that he thought the emphasis on democracy was misplaced, given the difficulties of transplanting Western-style institutions in regions accustomed to autocracy. Then, in 2006, the election of a Palestinian government led by Hamas quieted some of the administration’s ardor for democracy.

Matt Latimer, a former Bush speechwriter, recalled in a recent column in The Daily Beast that he prepared a ringing speech on democracy for the president to deliver while in Egypt in his final year in office, only to have it watered down at the last minute. “Demands for reform in Egypt became a mere ‘hope’ that Egypt might ‘one day’ lead the way for political reform,” Mr. Latimer wrote.

Still, in recent days, former Bush advisers like Elliott Abrams and Peter Wehner have written columns recalling the former president’s calls for change, and crediting them with setting the stage for what would come later in the Middle East, a region that skeptics often said would never move toward democracy. Whatever the final language of the 2008 appearance in Sharm el- Sheikh, they said Mr. Bush spoke to democratic ideals.

“He was right in saying, for the first time, that people in the Middle East wanted freedom as much as people in any other region, and in beginning through diplomacy and programs to help,” said Lorne W. Craner, a Bush assistant secretary of state for democracy and currently president of the International Republican Institute.

Mr. Craner said, “His message became conflated with the method of displacing Saddam Hussein in Iraq,” and to too many, “the freedom agenda meant invading a country and staying there while I.E.D.’s were going off.” But, he added, “Bush placed us on the right side of history, and that served the interests of democrats in the region, and the United States as well.”

Not everyone sees it that way, especially in the Obama White House, where the assertion rankles deeply. “Was Bush right?” scoffed one Obama adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Give me a break. How many democratic transformations like this took place when he was in office?”

Several, actually, in Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan, where popular risings also toppled entrenched ruling systems. But later events in those countries also showed that such first steps did not necessarily point in a straight line to lasting Jeffersonian democracy. Similarly, the change in Egypt has only begun, as Mr. Obama pointed out on Friday. Its final destination is still very much up in the air.

So, too, is Mr. Obama’s destination. Aides said he has been focused on the issue of democracy abroad since the beginning of his tenure. Last fall, they compiled a 17-page, single-spaced compendium of speech excerpts to show it. But he seems to have found more of a voice in the last six months.

On Aug. 12, officials said, he issued a formal but unpublicized presidential study directive seeking a review of political reform in the Middle East and North Africa. The following month, he gave a speech at the United Nations in which he declared that “part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.” And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likewise gave speeches pressing governments in the Middle East and elsewhere to reform.

Aides to Mr. Obama said he can make progress where Mr. Bush faltered because the current president has made reaching out to the Muslim world a priority and has de-emphasized the idea that the fight against terrorism means a war on Islam. While Mr. Bush also sent such messages, Obama aides said the baggage of Iraq and Guantánamo Bay undercut the impact.

“We do not make this about us,” said one senior administration official, who was not authorized to be identified. “We very carefully say this is about the people. We’re on the sidelines, we never talk about our values, we talk about universal values. Does that create space for these things to happen?” Hopefully so, the official said.

The question then becomes whether democracy promotion will again become a bipartisan aspiration.

Damon Wilson, a former Bush aide and now executive vice president of the Atlantic Council, said he was surprised that Mr. Obama did not take ownership of democracy as an issue from the start. But with Egypt, he now has a chance to do that, Mr. Wilson said, expressing hope that Republicans will not turn away from the notion simply because Mr. Obama is embracing it.

“Of all the issues to fight on,” he said, “democracy is not one where we should be declaring partisan differences.”



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 12, 2011

Because of incorrect information provided by the White House,

an earlier version of this article gave an incorrect date for the issue

of President Obama's study directive seeking a review of political reform

in the Middle East and North Africa. It was Aug. 12, not Aug. 16.

    The Return of Pushing Democracy, NYT, 12.2.2011,






Obama Backs Suleiman-Led Transition


February 5, 2011
The New York Times


MUNICH — The Obama administration on Saturday formally threw its weight behind a gradual transition in Egypt, backing attempts by the country’s vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman, to broker a compromise with opposition groups and prepare for new elections in September.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to a conference here, said it was important to support Mr. Suleiman as he seeks to defuse street protests and promises to reach out to opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Administration officials said earlier that Mr. Suleiman and other military-backed leaders in Egypt are also considering ways to provide President Hosni Mubarak with a graceful exit from power.

“That takes some time,” Mrs. Clinton said. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”

Her message, echoed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, was a notable shift in tone from the past week, when President Obama, faced with violent clashes in Cairo, demanded that Mr. Mubarak make swift, dramatic changes.

Now, the United States and other Western powers appear to have concluded that the best path for Egypt — and certainly the safest one, to avoid further chaos — is a gradual transition, managed by Mr. Suleiman, a pillar of Egypt’s existing establishment, and backed by the military.

Whether such a process is acceptable to the crowds on the streets of Cairo is far from clear: there is little evidence that Mr. Suleiman, a former head of Egyptian intelligence and trusted confidant of Mr. Mubarak, would be seen as an acceptable choice, even temporarily. Opposition groups have refused to speak to him, saying that Mr. Mubarak must leave first.

But Mrs. Clinton suggested that the United States was not insisting on the immediate departure of Mr. Mubarak, and that such an abrupt shift of power may not be necessary or prudent. She said Mr. Mubarak, having taken himself and his son, Gamal, out of the September elections, was already effectively sidelined. She emphasized the need for Egypt to begin building peaceful political parties and to reform its constitution to make a vote credible.

“That is what the government has said it is trying to do,” she said. “That is what we are supporting, and hope to see it move as orderly but as expeditiously, as possible, under the circumstances.”

Mrs. Clinton expressed fears about deteriorating security inside Egypt, noting the explosion at a gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula, and uncorroborated media reports of an earlier assassination attempt on Mr. Suleiman.

The report was mentioned at the conference by Wolfgang Ischinger, a retired German diplomat who is the conference chairman, just as Mrs. Clinton began taking questions at the gathering of heads of state, foreign ministers, and legislators from the United States, Europe, and other countries.

American officials said they have no evidence that the report is accurate. But Mrs. Clinton picked up on it and said it “certainly brings into sharp relief the challenges we are facing as we navigate through this period.”

A senior Republican senator at the meeting, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, voiced support for the administration’s backing for a gradual transition in Egypt, saying that a Suleiman-led transitional government, backed by the military, was probably the only way for Egypt to negotiate its way to elections in the fall.

“What would be the alternative?” he asked.

Mrs. Clinton emphasized that American support for Mr. Suleiman’s plan should not be construed as an effort to dictate events. “Those of us who are trying to make helpful offers of assistance and suggestions for how to proceed are still at the end on the outside looking in,” she said.

But in a hectic morning of diplomacy, Mrs. Clinton was clearly eager to build support for this position. She met with Mr. Cameron, Mrs. Merkel, and Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who said the views of Turkey and the United States were “100 percent identical.” Mr. Obama spoke by phone Friday with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mrs. Clinton’s emphasis on a deliberate process was repeated by Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Cameron. Mrs. Merkel harkened to her past as a democracy activist in East Germany, recalling the impatience of protestors, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, to immediately join democratic West Germany. But the process took a year, and it was time well spent, she said.

“There will be a change in Egypt,” she said, “but clearly, the change has to shaped in a way that it is a peaceful, a sensible way forward.”

Mr. Cameron said introducing democracy in Egypt “overnight” would fuel further instability, saying the West needed to encourage the development of civil society and political parties before holding a vote.

“Yes, the transition absolutely has to start now,” Mr. Cameron said. “But if we think it is all about the act of holding an election, we are wrong. It is about a set of actions.”

Mrs. Clinton highlighted the dangers of holding elections without adequate preparation. To take part in Egypt’s new order, she said, political parties should renounce violence as a tool of coercion, pledge to respect the rights of minorities, and show tolerance. The White House has signaled that it is open to a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that Israeli officials and others warn could put Egypt on a path to extremism.

“The transition to democracy will only happen if it is deliberate, inclusive, and transparent,” she said. “The challenge is to help our partners take systematic steps to usher in a better future, where people’s voices are heard, their rights respected, and their aspirations met.”

“Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy, only to see the process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception, and rigged elections to stay in power,” Mrs. Clinton said.

She also underlined the need to support Egypt’s state institutions, including the army and financial institutions, which she said were functioning and respected. Economic pressures are building in Egypt, she said, which has been paralyzed by days of street demonstrations.

While this meeting was dominated by the political change sweeping through the Middle East, the United States and Russia also formally put into force New Start, a strategic arms control treaty passed by the Senate in December after a long political battle by President Obama.

Mrs. Clinton and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, exchanged legal documents ratifying the treaty, which puts new limits on strategic nuclear warheads, heavy bombers, and launch vehicles. The United States and Russia have 45 days to trade details on the number, location, and technical specifications of their arsenals. Inspection can begin in 60 days.

Relations between the United States and Russia began to thaw at this meeting in 2009, when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called for the countries to “reset” their relationship after the chilly Bush years.

In addition to the ratification of New Start, the day saw a meeting of the Quartet, a group that deals with the Middle East and comprises the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. This meeting was intended to reaffirm support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, even amid the turmoil in Egypt and the Arab world.

The United States was reluctant to hold the meeting, a senior Western diplomat said, but the Europeans in particular wanted to make the point that change in the Middle East was a new opportunity for peace, and that stagnation between Israel and Palestine was a bad signal.

“Our analysis is because of the events in Egypt we must react and send a signal the peace process is alive,” the European diplomat said. Another quartet meeting will follow in the next month, he said.

Mrs. Clinton deflected a question about how the turmoil would affect Israel or the peace process. In its eagerness to avoid the issue, the administration lined up with Turkey. Mr. Davutoglu said, “It is better not to talk about Israel-Palestine now. It is better to separate these issues.”

    Obama Backs Suleiman-Led Transition, NYT, 5.2.2011,






Sudden Split Recasts U.S. Foreign Policy


February 2, 2011
The New York Times


This article is by Helene Cooper, Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti.

WASHINGTON — After days of delicate public and private diplomacy, the United States openly broke with its most stalwart ally in the Arab world on Wednesday, as the Obama administration strongly condemned violence by allies of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt against protesters and called on him to speed up his exit from power.

Egypt’s government hit back swiftly. The Foreign Ministry released a defiant statement saying the calls from “foreign parties” had been “rejected and aimed to incite the internal situation in Egypt.” And Egyptian officials reached out to reporters to make clear how angry they were at their onetime friend.

Separately, in an interview, a senior Egyptian government official took aim at President Obama’s call on Tuesday night for a political transition to begin “now” — a call that infuriated Cairo.

But the White House was not backing down. “I want to be clear,” said Robert Gibbs, the press secretary. “ ‘Now’ started yesterday.”

The Obama administration seemed determined Wednesday to put as much daylight as possible between Mr. Obama and Mr. Mubarak, once considered an unshakable American supporter in a tumultuous region, with Mr. Gibbs once again raising the specter of a cutoff of American aid to the Mubarak government if the Egyptian president failed to bend.

“There are things that the government needs to do,” he said. “There are reforms that need to be undertaken. And there are opposition entities that have to be included in the conversations as we move toward free and fair elections.” Those elections are currently scheduled for September, but the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said, “The sooner that can happen, the better.”

The open rupture between the United States and Egypt illustrates how swift and dramatic changes in Cairo are altering the calculus of the entire region and the administration’s foreign policy agenda. Besides Egypt, there were upheavals this week among other close American allies in the fight against Al Qaeda, and in the long struggle to reach a Middle East peace. Israeli officials expressed concern that Mr. Mubarak’s abrupt exit could jeopardize the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Even as the White House was trying to react to the latest flare-up of violence in Egypt on Wednesday — Mr. Gibbs pointedly criticized attacks against the media in Egypt and against “peaceful demonstrators” — officials at the Pentagon, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House were running various scenarios across the region in an effort to keep up with events.

What would the covert American war in Yemen look like if the supportive Yemeni president were to be forced out? Will Mr. Mubarak’s successor duplicate his support of the Middle East peace process? Will the shifts in the region benefit Islamic extremists, who will try to capitalize on unrest, or will it show the Arab street the power of a secular uprising?

“A full range of events are being discussed in many buildings throughout Washington,” Mr. Gibbs said.

As evidence of how far the rift has gone, a senior Egyptian official reached out to a reporter to criticize Mr. Obama’s remarks.

“There is a contradiction between calling on the transition to begin now, and the calls which President Mubarak himself has made for an orderly transition,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Mubarak’s primary responsibility is to ensure an orderly and peaceful transfer of power. We can’t do that if we have a vacuum of power.” He said that the Egyptian government has “a serious issue with how the White House is spinning this.”

For the Obama administration and the Egyptian government, the flip from allies to open confrontation has been fast. When former President George Bush was briefed ahead of his recent call to Mr. Mubarak — a call Mr. Bush volunteered to make because he was an old friend — Mr. Bush was given no instructions to push the leader toward the exit, according to people familiar with the conversations.

“No one wanted the vacuum of power that would happen if Mubarak left too soon,” said a former senior official who was consulted by the White House.

Now, though, administration officials are calling for visible steps from the Mubarak government. At a minimum, the Obama administration wants to make sure that political opponents of Mr. Mubarak are included in negotiations — which the United States wants to see begin at once — over how to restructure Egypt’s political system in a way that will take into account the grievances of the protesters.

American officials do not want a repeat of past promises from the Mubarak government for free elections that were followed by a shutting of the process to its opposition. After watching Mr. Mubarak’s statement — in which he fell far short of sweeping reform — Mr. Obama decided to toughen his own language further, demanding that change begin immediately. “The language was crafted after he spoke,” a senior administration official said.

“They want something better than when Mubarak said, ‘I want my Parliament to amend the articles of the Constitution relating to the presidential elections,’” said Brian Katulis, a foreign policy expert at the Center for American Progress. “If you’re the opposition, you’re thinking: ‘This is the Parliament which was elected in sham elections? No way.’ ”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Egypt’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, in the afternoon to reinforce Mr. Obama’s call for Mr. Mubarak to begin a transition immediately. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both called their counterparts on Wednesday as well. Officials said the administration is worried about a call for even larger protests on Friday, and said Wednesday’s clashes had narrowed Mr. Mubarak’s options.

Mr. Obama’s private emissary to Mr. Mubarak, Frank G. Wisner, abruptly left Cairo on Wednesday evening after only two meetings, one with the president and one with Mr. Suleiman.

“We felt that he had done what he could do,” the official said. “They had a conversation, and we felt that it had gone as far as it could.”

For the United States, the unfolding crisis is about much more than just a rift with an ally.

With the popular revolts in Egypt and Yemen — and a government already deposed in Tunisia — American counterterrorism officials are concerned that radical factions in those countries could find a new foothold amid the chaos. The United States is heavily reliant on foreign partners, and officials and outside experts said that losing Mr. Mubarak or President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen would deal a short-term blow to its counterterrorism campaign.

Or perhaps not.

“There’s part of this that’s dangerous to Al Qaeda,” said Juan Zarate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who was a top counterterrorism official during George W. Bush’s administration. “If the street protests lead to a peaceful, pluralistic transition, that does huge damage to the Al Qaeda narrative,” he said. That narrative holds that authoritarian pro-American governments should be deposed by violent jihad.

Still, some cautioned that it could take months or years for the long-term impact of the recent uprisings to be revealed. Citing Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution of 2005, Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University pointed out that the uprising had the immediate impact of bringing down the country’s Syria-backed government and causing the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, but six years later the militant group Hezbollah is now Lebanon’s de-facto government.

Experts said Mr. Saleh might be able to navigate the shoals of popular unrest more expertly than President Mubarak.

Described by American officials as a wily survivor, Mr. Saleh has spent years dealing with strife inside Yemen, from Shiite separatists to militants linked to Al Qaeda. Some in Washington questioned whether the pledge he made Wednesday to step cede power in 2013 was sincere, or a clever tactic to appease his enemies in Yemen.

“Saleh is used to dancing in the snake pit,” Mr. Zarate said.


David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

    Sudden Split Recasts U.S. Foreign Policy, NYT, 2.2.2011,






With Egypt,

Diplomatic Words Often Fail


January 29, 2011
The New York Times



TWO different White Houses, two different speeches.

In June 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stood before an audience of 600 at the American University in Cairo, assailed the Egyptian government for intimidating and locking up protesters and called for President Hosni Mubarak to hold free elections. “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither,” said Ms. Rice, infuriating the Mubarak government and heartening opposition leaders like Ayman Nour, an oft-jailed Parliament member, with whom she even held a meeting as part of her trip.

In June 2009, President Obama stood before an audience of 3,000 at Cairo University, and took a far gentler tone. “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose,” Mr. Obama said. But he then added, “There is no straight line to realize that promise.” Mr. Mubarak’s officials were euphoric after his speech; one called it “seminal.”

In the end, neither speech may have made much of a difference.

The chaos unfolding in Egypt is laying bare a stark fact, Middle East experts say: In the Arab world, American words may not matter, because American deeds, whatever the words, have been pretty consistent. Ever since that March morning 31 years ago, when Anwar el-Sadat reached out to clasp hands with Menachem Begin on the North Lawn of the White House after signing the Camp David peace treaty with Israel, the United States government has viewed the Egyptian government, no matter how flawed or undemocratic, as America’s closest ally in the Arab world.

Even when Ms. Rice and the Bush administration were infuriating Mr. Sadat’s successor, Mr. Mubarak, and calling for democracy in the Middle East, the reality was that the two governments were still, at their core, allies. Mr. Mubarak never forgave the Bush administration for the public flogging, officials in that administration say, but he met with Ms. Rice and President George W. Bush whenever they came through the region, and remained involved in Mr. Bush’s late efforts to negotiate Middle East peace.

And for all their calls for democracy, when it actually began happening in the Middle East, the Bush administration had to tack in the other direction. Palestinian elections in 2006, which the United States pushed for, led to victory for the militant Islamist organization Hamas, which the United States promptly blacklisted. Enter Mr. Obama, who came to office in 2009 vowing that he would make a major address from a Muslim capital early on, a promise he followed up with the Cairo speech. Determined not to repeat what it viewed as the mistakes of the Bush administration, the Obama administration limited criticism of Egypt to private conversations, and pointedly declined to publicly congratulate the government when it freed the jailed Mr. Nour, so as not to embarrass it.

Now, with the ascendance of democracy advocates on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and beyond, the United States has been tacking furiously again — this time to ally itself closer to the side of the protesters — while at the same time not getting too far away from its friend, Mr. Mubarak. The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, encapsulated the administration’s dilemma Friday in words that made it clear that administration officials still hadn’t decided what to do. “We will be reviewing our systems posture based on events that take place in the coming days,” he told reporters, sounding like he was talking about a NASA launch, not chaos in Cairo.

A few hours later, his boss came out with the administration’s strongest posture to date on behalf of the protesters, trying to get ahead of any potential violent crackdown by the Mubarak government by calling on Egyptian authorities to “refrain from calling for any violence against peaceful protesters.” But he stopped short of calling for free and fair elections, limiting his remarks to a request for Mr. Mubarak to address the grievances of the Egyptian people.

America, said Robert Malley, a Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group, is in an impossible hole. “Every time we open our mouth, it runs a risk of hurting the objective we’re pursuing,” he said. “The more we appear to be backing the regimes we’ve been backing for decades, the more we place ourselves on the wrong side of history and the more we alienate the constituencies who could be coming to power.”

But, Mr. Malley added, “the more we side with the protesters, the more we’re hurting the existing relationships and appearing to be fickle.” For instance, the Obama administration’s latest distancing of itself from Mr. Mubarak may not go over well. “It’s not clear to me that the protesters will take seriously expressions of solidarity from a country that’s been backing autocratic regimes,” Mr. Malley said.

Martin S. Indyk, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and a former United States ambassador to Israel, agreed. “We’re in completely uncharted territory,” he said. “This is a big deal with huge potential consequences for U.S. strategic interests in a vital region.”

The strategic importance of Egypt, the experts said, lies in its role as the cornerstone of American policy in the Middle East. The United States could not have sustained the wars it fought in Iraq without logistical support from Egypt’s government. Oil for Europe comes through the Suez Canal. Egypt is the largest and most militarily powerful Arab country. And most important to the United States, it is the crux of any American effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mr. Sadat’s peace deal in 1979 with Mr. Begin made it next to impossible for other Arab states to contemplate going to war with Israel, and therefore opened a very slow — excruciatingly slow — process for the Arab world to come to terms with Israel.

All of that is why both of those Cairo speeches, for all of their oratorical differences, may not really have mattered at the end of the day, Middle East experts said. American governments need a partner in Egypt who supports the keystone of America’s Middle East policy, and Hosni Mubarak has been that partner for 30 years. “The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty is the pillar of the structure in the Middle East,” said Edward P. Djerejian, a former American ambassador to Israel and Syria. “If the ’79 agreement goes asunder, everything falls apart. Everything falls apart.”

    With Egypt, Diplomatic Words Often Fail, NYT, 29.1.2011,






A Region’s Unrest

Scrambles U.S. Foreign Policy


January 25, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration confronts the spectacle of angry protesters and baton-wielding riot police officers from Tunisia to Egypt to Lebanon, it is groping for a plan to deal with an always-vexing region that is now suddenly spinning in dangerous directions.

In Egypt, where a staunch ally, President Hosni Mubarak, faced the fiercest protests in years on Tuesday, and Lebanon, where a Hezbollah-backed government is taking shape, the administration is grappling with volatile, potentially hostile forces that have already realigned the region’s political landscape.

These were surprising turns. But even the administration’s signature project in the region — Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — became even more intractable this week, with the publication of confidential documents detailing Palestinian concessions offered in talks with Israel. The disclosure makes it less likely that the Palestinians will agree to any further concessions.

In interviews in recent days, officials acknowledged that the United States had limited influence over many actors in the region, and that the upheaval in Egypt, in particular, could scramble its foreign-policy agenda.

So it is proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests. That sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments — which has turned many of those young people against the United States.

President Obama called Mr. Mubarak last week, after the uprising in Tunisia, to talk about joint projects like the Middle East peace process, even as he emphasized the need to meet the democratic aspirations of the Tunisian protesters.

Mr. Obama repeated this point during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, saying, “Tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people,” a reference, a White House official said, to the protesters in Egypt.

The White House warned Hezbollah against coercion and intimidation, and officials said the United States might go as far as pulling hundreds of millions of dollars of aid from Lebanon. The administration sent a senior diplomat, Jeffrey D. Feltman, to Tunisia to express support for pro-democracy forces as they prepared for elections after the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

While there are important differences between North Africa and Lebanon, the two situations pose similar challenges.

Some analysts argue that the United States should seize on Tunisia to advance democracy across the Middle East — reprising the “freedom agenda” of the Bush administration and providing Mr. Obama a rare opportunity to deliver on pledges to build bridges to the Muslim world.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton came closest to doing that in Qatar two weeks ago, when she bluntly criticized Arab leaders for their autocratic ways, a mere 24 hours before Mr. Ben Ali was driven from office. But Mrs. Clinton’s speech does not augur a return to the Bush approach, officials said.

For one thing, clamoring for democracy did not work so well for President George W. Bush, administration officials said. More important, a wave of upheaval could uproot valuable allies. An uprising in Tunisia, a peripheral player in the region, is not the same as one in Egypt, a linchpin. The Egyptian government is a crucial ally to Washington, but the population is very suspicious of American motives, and the potential for Islamic extremism lurks. “These countries are going to go at a different pace,” said Daniel B. Shapiro, a senior Middle East adviser on the National Security Council. “One couldn’t, or shouldn’t try, to come up with a cookie-cutter ideal of how to approach it.”

The administration has tried to balance its ties to Mr. Mubarak with expressions of concern about rigged elections and jailed dissidents in his country. But it may find it harder to avoid singling him out if the crowds keep building in Cairo, as separate statements of concern about the protests in Egypt, released by the White House and State Department late Tuesday, suggested.

“The challenge for the administration is to find the right balance between identifying the U.S. too closely with these changes, and thereby undermining them; and not finding ways to nurture them enough,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“They don’t yet know how to do that,” he said.

Some critics say the administration erred by putting the peace process at the center of its strategy for the region, overlooking a restive Arab population. “They put U.S.-Egyptian relations within the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Elliott Abrams, a Middle East adviser in the Bush administration. “But what happens in Egypt originates in Egypt.”

Mr. Obama came into office determined to play down the Bush administration’s Iraq-centered “freedom agenda,” the very public push for democratic change. In his speech to the Islamic world in Cairo in June 2009, Mr. Obama said each country should chart its own path to democracy and rejected military intervention as a way to accelerate the process.

Instead, the administration has worked with pro-democracy groups to advocate for freer media and assembly. It has pushed for outside monitors to scrutinize elections in Jordan and Egypt. And it has encouraged social networks like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about pro-democracy movements — the very networks that helped spread word of demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt.

“In giving us guidance as we develop our policies in the region, the president was adamant that we take stock of the brittleness and hidden risks of the status quo,” said Samantha Power, a senior director at the National Security Council who handles human rights issues.

But critics say bottom-up efforts have failed to open up political space in Arab countries. Despite the push for monitors in Egypt, its recent parliamentary elections were judged less honest than elections in 2005. Steven Heydemann, a vice president at the United States Institute of Peace, argued in a blog post this week that the time had come for the United States to confront Arab leaders more forcefully, demanding that they repeal emergency laws and scrap state security courts, which they use to exercise arbitrary power.

Administration officials said they pressed Mr. Mubarak repeatedly not to reinstate Egypt’s emergency law, which has been in place since 1981. He did so anyway, but officials said he released virtually all the political prisoners that were on a list compiled by Human Rights Watch. In his call with Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama also linked the bombing of a Coptic Christian church to the rights of religious minorities.

Still, critics say the pressure has been mostly in private, which does little to build support among impatient young Arabs. Some analysts say the big question is whether the administration should seize on Tunisia as a lever to push for change elsewhere.

“If Tunisia works out, that could be much more of an inspiration to Arab countries than Iraq ever was,” said Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It is an unexpected windfall. That’s why they should be making the most of it.”

David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Tunis.

    A Region’s Unrest Scrambles U.S. Foreign Policy, NYT, 25.1.2011,






Strong American Voice

in Diplomacy and Crisis


December 13, 2010
The New York Times


Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009 and a diplomatic troubleshooter who worked for every Democratic president since the late 1960s and oversaw the negotiations that ended the war in Bosnia, died Monday evening in Washington. He was 69 and lived in Manhattan.

His death was confirmed by an Obama administration official.

Mr. Holbrooke was hospitalized on Friday afternoon after becoming ill while meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her Washington office. Doctors found a tear to his aorta, and he underwent a 21-hour operation. Mr. Holbrooke had additional surgery on Sunday and remained in very critical condition until his death.

Mr. Holbrooke’s signal accomplishment in a distinguished career that involved diplomacy in Asia, Europe and the Middle East was his role as chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in Bosnia. It was a coup preceded and followed by his peacekeeping missions to the tinderbox of ethnic, religious and regional conflicts that was formerly Yugoslavia.

More recently, Mr. Holbrooke wrestled with the stunning complexity of Afghanistan and Pakistan: how to bring stability to the region while fighting a resurgent Taliban and coping with corrupt governments, rigged elections, fragile economies, a rampant narcotics trade, nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and the presence of Al Qaeda, and presumably Osama bin Laden, in the wild tribal borderlands.

One of his main tasks was to press President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to take responsibility for security in his country and to confront the corruption that imperils the American mission there. At times, Mr. Karzai refused to see him, but Mr. Holbrooke was undeterred.

“He’s an enormously tough customer,” Mr. Holbrooke said during one of the periodic breakfasts he had with reporters who covered his diplomatic exploits. “As you’ve heard,” he added with a smile, “so am I.”

He helped his boss, Mrs. Clinton, whom he had supported in her presidential bid, to persuade President Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, while pressing for more aid and development projects to improve the United States’ image there. But he died before anyone knew if the experiment would succeed.

A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter, he used a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger to press his positions. Mr. Obama, who praised Mr. Holbrooke on Monday afternoon at the State Department as “simply one of the giants of American foreign policy,” was sometimes driven to distraction by his lectures.

But Mr. Holbrooke dazzled and often intimidated opponents and colleagues around a negotiating table. Some called him a bully, and he looked the part: the big chin thrust out, the broad shoulders, the tight smile that might mean anything. To admirers, however, including generations of State Department protégés and the presidents he served, his peacemaking efforts were extraordinary.

When he named Mr. Holbrooke to represent the United States at the United Nations, President Bill Clinton said, “His remarkable diplomacy in Bosnia helped to stop the bloodshed, and at the talks in Dayton the force of his determination was the key to securing peace, restoring hope and saving lives.” Others said his work in Bosnia deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

Few diplomats could boast of his career accomplishments. Early on, Mr. Holbrooke devoted six years to the Vietnam War: first in the Mekong Delta with the United States Agency for International Development, seeking the allegiance of the civilian population; then at the embassy in Saigon as an aide to Ambassadors Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.; and finally in the American delegation to the 1968-69 Paris peace talks led by W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus R. Vance.

Mr. Holbrooke was the author of one volume of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War that cataloged years of American duplicity in Southeast Asia. The papers were first brought to public attention by The New York Times in 1971.

As assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Carter administration, Mr. Holbrooke played a crucial role in establishing full diplomatic relations with China in 1979, a move that finessed America’s continuing commitment to China’s thorn in the side Taiwan and followed up on the historic breakthrough of President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 visit to China.

During the Clinton presidency, Mr. Holbrooke served as ambassador to Germany in 1993-94, when he helped enlarge the North Atlantic alliance; achieved his diplomatic breakthroughs in Bosnia as assistant secretary of state for European affairs in 1994-95; and was chief representative to the United Nations, a cabinet post, for 17 months from 1999 to 2001.

At the United Nations, he forged close ties to Secretary General Kofi Annan, negotiated a settlement of America’s longstanding dues dispute, highlighted conflicts and health crises in Africa and Indonesia, and called for more peacekeeping forces. After fighting erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999, he led a Security Council delegation on a mission to Africa. He also backed sanctions against Angolan rebels in 2000.

While he achieved prominence as a cabinet official and envoy to many of the world’s most troubled arenas, Mr. Holbrooke was frustrated in his ambition to be secretary of state; he was the runner-up to Madeleine K. Albright, Mr. Clinton’s choice in 1997, and a contender when Mr. Obama installed Mrs. Clinton in the post in 2009.

Foreign policy was his life. Even during Republican administrations, when he was not in government, he was deeply engaged, undertaking missions as a private citizen traveling through the war-weary Balkans and the backwaters of Africa and Asia to see firsthand the damage and devastating human costs of genocide, civil wars, and H.I.V. and AIDS epidemics.

And his voice on the outside remained influential — as an editor of Foreign Policy magazine from 1972 to 1977, as a writer of columns for The Washington Post and analytical articles for many other publications, and as the author of two books. He collaborated with Clark Clifford, a presidential adviser, on a best-selling Clifford memoir, “Counsel to the President” (1991), and wrote his own widely acclaimed memoir, “To End a War” (1998), about his Bosnia service.

Mr. Holbrooke also made millions as an investment banker on Wall Street. In the early 1980s, he was a co-founder of a Washington consulting firm, Public Strategies, which was later sold to Lehman Brothers. At various times he was a managing director of Lehman Brothers, vice chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston and a director of the American International Group.

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke was born in Manhattan on April 24, 1941, to Dr. Dan Holbrooke, a physician, and the former Trudi Moos. He attended Scarsdale High School, where his best friend was David Rusk, son of Dean Rusk, the future secretary of state. Richard’s father died when he was 15, and he drew closer to the Rusk family.

At Brown University, he majored in history and was editor of the student newspaper. He intended to become a journalist, but after graduating in 1962 he was turned down by The Times and joined the State Department as a foreign service officer.

In 1964, Mr. Holbrooke married the first of his three wives, Larrine Sullivan, a lawyer. The couple had two sons, David and Anthony, and were divorced. His marriage to Blythe Babyak, a television producer, also ended in divorce. In 1995, he married Kati Marton, an author, journalist and human rights advocate who had been married to the ABC anchorman Peter Jennings until their divorce in 1993. He is survived by Ms. Marton; his two sons; his brother, Andrew; and two stepchildren, Christopher and Elizabeth Jennings.

After language training, he spent three years working in Vietnam. In 1966, he joined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House staff, and two years later became a junior member of the delegation at the Paris peace talks. The talks achieved no breakthrough, but the experience taught him much about the arts of negotiation.

In 1970, after a year as a fellow at Princeton, he became director of the Peace Corps in Morocco. He quit government service in 1972 and over the next five years edited the quarterly journal Foreign Policy. He was also a contributing editor of Newsweek International and a consultant on reorganizing the government’s foreign policy apparatus.

He worked on Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976, and was rewarded with the post of assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs. When Ronald Reagan and the Republicans took over the White House in 1981, Mr. Holbrooke left the government and for more than a decade focused on writing and investment banking.

When President Clinton took office in 1993, Mr. Holbrooke was named ambassador to Germany. He helped found the American Academy in Berlin as a cultural exchange center.

He returned to Washington in 1994 as assistant secretary of state for European affairs. His top priority soon became the horrendous civil war in the former Yugoslavia, a conflict precipitated by the secession of Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia. Massacres, mass rapes and displaced populations, among other atrocities, were part of campaigns of “ethnic cleansing” against Muslims.

After months of shuttle diplomacy, Mr. Holbrooke in 1995 achieved a breakthrough cease-fire and a framework for dividing Bosnia into two entities, one of Bosnian Serbs and another of Croatians and Muslims. The endgame negotiations, involving the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, unfolded in Dayton, Ohio, where a peace agreement was reached after months of hard bargaining led by Mr. Holbrooke.

It was the high-water mark of a career punctuated with awards, honorary degrees and prestigious seats on the boards of the Asia Society, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Council on Foreign Relations, Refugees International and other organizations. He was 59 when he left the United Nations as the Clinton administration drew to a close.

But there was to be one more task. As Mr. Obama assumed office and attention shifted to Afghanistan, Mr. Holbrooke took on his last assignment. He began by trying to lower expectations, moving away from the grand, transformative goals of President George W. Bush toward something more readily achievable.

But his boss and old friend, Mrs. Clinton, expressed absolute confidence in him. “Richard represents the kind of robust, persistent, determined diplomacy the president intends to pursue,” she said. “I admire deeply his ability to shoulder the most vexing and difficult challenges.”


David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.

    Strong American Voice in Diplomacy and Crisis, NYT, 13.12.2010,






Nudge on Arms

Further Divides U.S. and Israel


July 3, 2010
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — It was only one paragraph buried deep in the most plain-vanilla kind of diplomatic document, 40 pages of dry language committing 189 nations to a world free of nuclear weapons. But it has become the latest source of friction between Israel and the United States in a relationship that has lurched from crisis to crisis over the last few months.

At a meeting to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in May, the United States yielded to demands by Arab nations that the final document urge Israel to sign the treaty — a way of spotlighting its historically undeclared nuclear weapons.

Israel believed it had assurances from the Obama administration that it would reject efforts to include such a reference, an Israeli official said, and it saw this as another sign of unreliability by its most important ally. In a recent visit to Washington, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, raised the issue in meetings with senior American officials.

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled to meet President Obama on Tuesday at the White House, the flap may introduce a discordant note into a meeting that both sides are eager to portray as a chance for Israel and the United States to turn the page after a rocky period.

Other things have changed notably for the better in American-Israeli relations since Mr. Netanyahu called off his last visit to the White House to rush home to deal with the crisis after Israel’s deadly attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla sailing to Gaza in late May. His agreement to ease the land blockade on Gaza, which came at the request of the United States, has helped thaw the chill between the governments, American and Israeli officials said.

Meanwhile, the raft of new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, after the passage of the United Nations resolution, has reassured Israelis, who viewed Mr. Obama’s attempts to engage Iran with unease. Mr. Obama signed the American sanctions into law on Thursday.

“The overall tone is more of a feel-good visit than we’ve seen in the past,” said David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It has been more focused on making sure that the Ides of March have passed.”

He was referring to the dispute during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in March, when Israel approved plans for Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. Mr. Obama was enraged by what he perceived as a slight to Mr. Biden, and when Mr. Netanyahu visited a few weeks later, the While House showed its displeasure by banning cameras from recording the visit.

But despite the better atmospherics, some analysts said the nuclear nonproliferation issue symbolizes why Israel remains insecure about the intentions of the Obama administration. In addition to singling out Israel, the document, which has captured relatively little public attention, calls for a regional conference in 2012 to lay the groundwork for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel, whose nuclear arsenal is one of the world’s worst-kept secrets, would be on the hot seat at such a meeting.

At the last review conference, in 2005, the Bush administration refused to go along with any references to Israel, one of several reasons the meeting ended in acrimony, without any statement.

This time, Israel believed the Obama administration would again take up its cause. As a non-signatory to the treaty, Israel did not attend the meeting. But American officials consulted the Israelis on a text in advance, which they found acceptable, a person familiar with those discussions said. That deepened their surprise at the end.

Administration officials said the United States negotiated for months with Egypt, on behalf of the Arab states, to leave out the reference to Israel. While the United States supports the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, it stipulated that any conference would be only a discussion, not the beginning of a negotiation to compel Israel to sign on to the treaty.

The United States practices a policy of ambiguity with respect to Israel’s nuclear stockpile, neither publicly discussing it nor forcing the Israeli government to acknowledge its existence.

The United States, recognizing that the document would upset the Israelis, sought to distance itself even as it signed it.

In a statement released after the conference ended, the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said, “The United States deplores the decision to single out Israel in the Middle East section of the NPT document.” He said it was “equally deplorable” that the document did not single out Iran for its nuclear ambitions. Any conference on a nuclear-free Middle East, General Jones said, could only come after Israel and its neighbors had made peace.

The United States, American officials said, faced a hard choice: refusing to compromise with the Arab states on Israel would have sunk the entire review conference. Given the emphasis Mr. Obama has placed on nonproliferation, the United States could not accept such an outcome.

It also would complicate the administration’s attempts to build bridges to the Arab world, an effort that is at the heart of some of the disagreements between the United States and Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama will have plenty of other things to discuss this week. After several rounds of indirect talks, brokered by the administration’s special envoy, George J. Mitchell, the United States is pushing the Israelis and the Palestinians to begin direct negotiations.

A central question, analysts said, is whether Mr. Netanyahu will extend Israel’s self-imposed moratorium on new residential construction in West Bank settlements, which expires in September. He is unlikely to take such a step unless the Palestinians agree to face-to-face talks, they said.

For Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, the most basic priority may be establishing trust between them — which is why the flap over the nuclear conference, though small, is potentially troublesome.

“Most American presidents who end up being successful on Israel manage to create, even amid great mistrust and suspicion, a pretty good working relationship,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator. “This has been a real crisis of confidence, which cuts to the core of how each leader sees his respective world.”

    Nudge on Arms Further Divides U.S. and Israel, NYT, 3.7.2010,







High-Seas Raid Deepens Israeli Isolation


June 1, 2010
Filed at 12:33 a.m. ET
The New York Times


JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's bloody, bungled takeover of a Gaza-bound Turkish aid vessel is complicating U.S.-led Mideast peace efforts, deepening Israel's international isolation and threatening to destroy the Jewish state's ties with key regional ally Turkey.

And while Israel had hoped to defend its tight blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza with Monday's high-seas raid, it instead appeared to be hastening the embargo's demise, judging by initial international condemnation.

The pre-dawn commando operation, which killed nine pro-Palestinian activists, was also sure to strengthen Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers at the expense of U.S. allies in the region, key among them Hamas' main rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

''The attack on a humanitarian mission ... will only further alienate the international community and isolate Israel while granting added legitimacy to Hamas' claim to represent the plight of the Palestinian people,'' said Scott Atran, an analyst at the University of Michigan.

The Mediterranean bloodshed dealt another blow to the Obama administration's efforts to get peace talks back on track. It raised new questions about one of the pillars of U.S. policy -- that Hamas can be left unattended as Washington tries to broker a peace deal between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The raid tested U.S.-Israeli ties that have not yet fully recovered from their most serious dispute in decades, triggered by Israeli construction plans in disputed east Jerusalem.

In the most immediate fallout, the interception of the six-boat flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of supplies for Gaza trained the global spotlight on the blockade of the territory. Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza's borders after Hamas overran the territory in 2007, wresting control from Abbas-loyal forces.

The blockade, under which Israel allows in only essential humanitarian supplies, was intended to squeeze the militants. Instead, it has failed to dislodge Hamas, driven ordinary Gazans deeper into poverty and emerged as a constant source of friction and instability. In trying to shake off the blockade, Hamas intensified rocket fire on Israeli border towns, provoking Israel's three-week military offensive against Gaza 16 months ago.

After the war, the international community remained reluctant to push hard for an end to the blockade, for fear it could prolong the rule of Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by the West.

But after Monday's deadly clash, Israel may find itself under growing pressure to at least ease the blockade significantly.

European diplomats on Monday demanded a swift end to the border closure, while U.S. officials said statements would call for greater assistance to the people of Gaza. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

The fate of U.S.-led indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians was uncertain.

Netanyahu canceled a scheduled Tuesday meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, and the status of a planned visit to Washington by Abbas next week was not immediately clear.

Abbas temporarily walked away from the negotiations in March, after Israel announced more housing for Jews in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem.

But while the Palestinian leader denounced Monday's ship raid as a ''sinful massacre,'' he signaled he would keep going with the indirect talks. Abbas told senior officials of his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization that there is no need to quit since the Palestinians are talking to the U.S. and not to Israel, according to his adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh.

Relations between Abbas and Hamas have become increasingly vitriolic, and extending Hamas rule by lifting the blockade would run counter to Abbas' objectives.

Abbas must now make a credible effort to open Gaza's borders, said Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri. ''Otherwise, he will be viewed as weak or part of the siege and lose the support of his people,'' al-Masri said.

Israel dismissed the condemnation, saying its forces came under attack when they tried to board one of the Turkish-flagged aid vessels. However, its point of view seemed to fall on deaf ears.

''Militarily, we can feel quite safe, but not regarding our political international standing,'' said Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat posted in Turkey.

Israel also appears close to destroying its relationship with key strategic ally Turkey.

Turkey decided to scrap three military drills involving Israel and withdrawal of its ambassador.

Turkey, NATO's sole Muslim member, established close military relations with Israel in 1996 under U.S. pressure. Today, the Islamic-rooted government's sensitivities about the plight of Muslims anywhere and aspirations to have a say in the Middle East and Europe are reshaping Turkish foreign policy.


Lee reported from Washington.

Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh

in Ramallah, West Bank,

and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey,

contributed to this report.

    Analysis: High-Seas Raid Deepens Israeli Isolation, NYT, 1.6.2010;






Israeli Raid

Complicates U.S. Ties

and Push for Peace


May 31, 2010
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Israel’s deadly commando raid on Monday on a flotilla trying to break a blockade of Gaza complicated President Obama’s efforts to move ahead on Middle East peace negotiations and introduced a new strain into an already tense relationship between the United States and Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel canceled plans to come to Washington on Tuesday to meet with Mr. Obama. The two men spoke by phone within hours of the raid, and the White House later released an account of the conversation, saying Mr. Obama had expressed “deep regret” at the loss of life and recognized “the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances” as soon as possible.

While the administration’s public response was restrained, American officials expressed dismay in private over not only the flotilla raid, with its attendant deepening of Israel’s isolation around the world, but also over the timing of the crisis, which comes just as long-delayed American-mediated indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians were getting under way.

Some foreign policy experts said the episode highlighted the difficulty of trying to negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority without taking into account an element often relegated to the background: how to deal with Hamas-ruled Gaza. Hamas, the Islamist organization that refuses to recognize Israel’s existence, operates independently of the Palestinian Authority and has rejected any peace talks. Gaza has repeatedly complicated Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

“This regrettable incident underscores that the international blockade of Gaza is not sustainable,” Martin S. Indyk, the former United States ambassador to Israel, said Monday. “It helps to stop Hamas attacks on Israelis, but seriously damages Israel’s international reputation. Our responsibility to Israel is to help them find a way out of this situation.”

The Obama administration officially supports the Gaza blockade, as the Bush administration did before it. But Mr. Obama, some aides say, has expressed strong frustration privately with the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

At a time when the United States is increasingly linking its own national security interests in the region to the inability of Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, heightened tensions over Monday’s killings could deepen the divide between the Israeli government and the Obama administration just as Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu were trying to overcome recent differences.

“We’re not sure yet where things go from here,” one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic delicacy of the issue. The White House statement said that Mr. Obama “understood the prime minister’s decision to return immediately to Israel to deal with today’s events” and that they would reschedule their meeting “at the first opportunity.”

No matter what happens, foreign policy experts who advise the administration agreed that if Mr. Obama wanted to move ahead with the peace talks, preceded by the so-called proximity or indirect talks, the flotilla raid demonstrated that he may have to tackle the thornier issue of the Gaza blockade, which has largely been in effect since the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2007.

Since then, Israel, the United States and Europe have plowed ahead with a strategy of dealing with the Palestinian Authority, which has control over the West Bank, while largely ignoring Gaza, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians.

Gaza was left with a deteriorating crisis as Hamas refused to yield to Western demands that it renounce violence and recognize Israel.

“You can talk all you want about proximity talks, expend as much energy as Obama has, but if you ignore the huge thorn of Gaza, it will come back to bite you,” said Robert Malley, program director for the Middle East and North Africa with the International Crisis Group.

For the Obama administration, the first order of business may be figuring out a way to hammer out a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas that will end the blockade of Gaza. Several attempts in the past two years to reach such an agreement have come close, but ultimately failed, the last time when the two sides were unable to reach a consensus on the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas, Gilad Shalit.

Mr. Indyk, the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, says that after things cool down, the administration needs to work on a package deal in which Hamas commits to preventing attacks from, and all smuggling into, Gaza. In return, Israel would drop the blockade and allow trade in and out. “That deal would have to include a prisoner swap in which Gilad Shalit is finally freed,” he said.

It was unclear whether the indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would suffer an immediate delay. George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration envoy to the Middle East, was still planning to attend the Palestine Investment Conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday and Thursday.

The indirect talks involved American negotiators shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinians, and are widely viewed as a step back from nearly two decades of direct talks.

But their structure may actually serve the purpose of keeping them going. Mr. Mitchell and his staff have been shuttling between the two sides for more than a year, meaning that the preparation for indirect talks and the talks themselves do not look different from the outside. As a result, the American brokers could continue their shuttles despite the flotilla attack.

While the blockade of Gaza has been widely criticized around the world, Israeli officials say it has imposed political pressure on Hamas. The group has stopped firing rockets at southern Israel and is fighting discontent among the people in Gaza.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 31, 2010

An earlier version of this article misstated the stance of the European Union

on the Gaza blockade.

    Israeli Raid Complicates U.S. Ties and Push for Peace, NYT, 31.5.2010,






Iran, the Deal and the Council


May 18, 2010
The New York Times


Every time it looks as if the big powers have finally run out of patience with Iran’s nuclear misdeeds, Tehran’s leaders suddenly decide they’re in the mood to compromise. And every time the big powers let up on the pressure, Tehran’s compromises turn to smoke.

It was no surprise on Monday when Iran announced it was ready to accept a deal to ship some of its nuclear fuel out of the country — similar to the deal it accepted and then rejected last year. So it is welcome news that the United States, Europe, Russia and China will press ahead with new United Nations Security Council sanctions.

The deal to exchange enriched uranium — which could, with more enrichment, be used in a weapon — for fuel rods is worth pursuing. We also are sure that there is no chance of reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions without sustained unified pressure by the major powers.

The resolution, circulated late on Tuesday, takes aim at Iran’s financial institutions, including those supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which runs much of the nuclear program. It would also require countries to inspect ships or aircraft into or out of Iran if there are suspicions they are carrying banned materials.

Like the three resolutions that preceded it, it is probably not tough enough to change minds in Tehran. But the fact that Russia and China — Iran’s longtime enablers — have signed on is likely to make some players in Iran’s embattled government nervous. (We know we can’t wait to hear what changed Beijing’s mind.)

Several European governments have signaled that they are ready to impose tougher bilateral sanctions after the Security Council moves, and that might unsettle Iran’s shaky political and economic system even more.

Since 2006, Tehran has defied repeated demands from the Security Council to curb its nuclear program. It continues to churn out more nuclear fuel, block international inspectors from visiting suspect nuclear sites and refuses to answer questions about possible research into weapons designs.

The 11th-hour agreement announced this week with the leaders of Brazil and Turkey was much like one reached with the big powers last fall. Iran would transfer about 2,640 pounds of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey within one month and receive — within one year — fuel rods for use in a medical research reactor.

There are big differences, however. In October, 2,640 pounds represented nearly 80 percent of Iran’s stock of enriched uranium. Now it is only about half of its supply.

The original deal was intended to measurably delay Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon while opening the door to serious negotiations. The current deal leaves Iran with too much fuel, puts no brakes on enrichment at a higher rate, lets Tehran take back the fuel stored in Turkey when it wants and makes no commitment to talks.

Brazil and Turkey — both currently hold seats on the Security Council — are eager to play larger international roles. And they are eager to avoid a conflict with Iran. We respect those desires. But like pretty much everyone else, they got played by Tehran.

American officials have not rejected the deal completely. They say that Iran will have to do more to slow its nuclear progress and demonstrate its interest in negotiating, rather than just manipulating the international community.

Brazil and Turkey should join the other major players and vote for the Security Council resolution. Even before that, they should go back to Tehran and press the mullahs to make a credible compromise and begin serious negotiations.

    Iran, the Deal and the Council, NYT, 18.5.2010,






Obama Calls for Alliances With Muslims


June 5, 2009
The New York Times


CAIRO — President Obama pledged on Thursday to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” imploring America and the Islamic world to drop their suspicions of one another and forge new alliances to confront violent extremism and heal religious divides.

“We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek,” he said. “A world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected.”

He dwelled on Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan but reserved some of his sharpest words for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He offered no major initiatives on the Middle East peace process although he put Israelis and Palestinians on notice that he intends to deal directly with what he sees as intransigence on key issues, evoking the concerns of both parties but asking both to shift ground significantly.

The speech in Cairo, which he called a “timeless city,” redeemed a promise he made nearly two years ago while running for president. It was, perhaps, the riskiest speech of his young presidency, and Mr. Obama readily conceded that not every goal would be easily or quickly achieved.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition,” he said. “Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

His message was sweeping and forceful — at times scolding and combative — promoting democracy in Egypt, warning Israelis against building new settlements, and acknowledging that the United States had fallen short of its ideals, particularly in the Iraq war. It also evoked a new and nuanced tone, and some of Mr. Obama’s language drew appreciative applause from his audience of 3,000 invited guests in the Major Reception Hall at Cairo University.

Several times, for instance, he spoke of “Palestine,” rather than the more ambiguous term often used by American leaders, “future Palestinian state.” And, in reference to the Palestinians, he pointedly mentioned “the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.”

He described the bond between the United States and Israel as “unbreakable,” and urged Hamas, the Islamic militant group in control of the Gaza Strip, to stop violence. But in his next breath, Mr. Obama said Israel must curtail its expansion of West bank settlements and recognize Palestinian aspirations for statehood. He also acknowledged that Hamas, which the United States labels a terrorist organization, “does have some support among some Palestinians.”

“But they also have responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said, listing them as “to end violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s,” Mr. Obama said. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

And, while Israel’s hawkish government has not accepted a so-called two-state solution, Mr. Obama said: “The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

“This is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest and the world’s interest,” he said. In the Middle East, “too many tears have been shed; too much blood has been shed.”

The address drew initial support from Palestinians. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called it “a good start and an important step towards a new American policy.”

“It was honest, is the first word that comes to mind,” said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent human rights organization.

Mr. Bahgat, who attended the speech at Cairo University, said that one of the most important elements of the speech was what was left out. “I think it was remarkable the speech left out the term terrorism completely,” he said. “It may have been a paradigm shift for the United States, away from using this politically charged word.”

But others in the region faulted it. The President, some noted, did not offer any new initiatives, did not lay out a time line for progress towards a Middle East settlement and asked his audience to accept an view which gave equal weight to Israeli and Palestinian concerns.

That part did not go down well, people in the region said.

“I feel it is important historically, but it will bring nothing new,” said Hasim Fouad, 24, a reporter with the independent Egyptian newspaper Al Dustour.

Mr. Obama strode onto the stage to loud applause and a standing ovation in the conference hall. He conceded that his speech came at “a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

But he sought to explain that he represented the new face of American leadership. He did not mention the name of George W. Bush, who preceded him in office, and whose policies contributed to the mistrust.

“America is not and never will be at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security,” Mr. Obama said. “Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.” Mr. Obama said: “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Mr. Obama offered few details for how to solve myriad problems and conflicts around the globe, but he offered up his own biography as a credible connection to his audience. While the message touched upon a litany of challenges, it boiled down to simply this: Barack Hussein Obama was standing at the podium as the American president.

“I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum,” Mr. Obama said, delivering a common greeting signifying peaceful intent.

Mr. Obama said the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 caused “enormous trauma to our country.” He offered no direct criticism of the previous administration, but reminded his audience that he has “unequivocally prohibited the use of torture” and has ordered the prison to be closed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals,” Mr. Obama said. “We are taking concrete actions to change course.”

The president divided his speech into seven sections, often sounding like the university professor he was before he sought political office. He touched on “sources of tension” from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights and economic development and opportunity.

He said the Iraq war had been a “war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.”

“Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.”

By contrast, he described America’s military presence in Afghanistan as a necessity after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan,” he said. “We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, determined to kill as many Americans as possible. But that is not yet the case.”

Turning to Iran’s contentious nuclear program, he said any nation “should have the right to access to peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities” under international regulations to counter the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Iran maintains its nuclear enrichment program is for peaceful civilian purposes but many in the West suspect it is designed to build a nuclear bomb. “This is not simply about America’s interests,” Mr. Obama said, “It is also about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

As his visit to the region began Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Obama was greeted with reminders of the vast gulfs his address must bridge, as voices as disparate as Al Qaeda’s and the Israeli government’s competed to shape how Mr. Obama’s message would be heard.

In a new audiotape, Osama bin Laden condemned Mr. Obama for planting what he called new seeds of “hatred and vengeance” among Muslims, while in Jerusalem, senior Israeli officials complained that Mr. Obama was rewriting old understandings by taking a harder line against new Israeli settlements.


Jeff Zeleny reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from London.

Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington,

and Michael Slackman from Cairo.

    Obama Calls for Alliances With Muslims, NYT, 5.6.2009,






Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo


June 4, 2009
The New York Times


The following is a text of President Obama's prepared remarks to the Muslim world, delivered on June 4, 2009, as released by the White House.


I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

    Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, NYT, 4.6.2009,






Obama Acts Fast on Mideast,

But Substance Familiar


January 23, 2009
Filed at 8:06 a.m. ET
The New York Times


CAIRO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has taken the Middle East by surprise with the speed of his diplomacy but his first statement on the conflict between Arabs and Israelis was strikingly similar to old U.S. policies.

Arab leaders in the meantime are jumping in with their own proposals in the hope of helping to shape U.S. policy before the new administration sets it in stone.

Arab governments and commentators had expected Obama to take his time before turning his attention to the Middle East, concentrating instead on the U.S. economy and domestic concerns.

But the new president, only two days into office, appointed on Thursday a special envoy for the region, veteran mediator and former Senator George Mitchell, and said Mitchell would go to the Middle East as soon as possible.

Mitchell will try to ensure that an informal ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip becomes durable and sustainable, Obama added.

One day earlier, Obama made telephone calls to Washington's long-standing allies in the Middle East - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

The conservative Arab governments saw the calls as an affirmation of their privileged status -- another sign that Obama is sticking to traditional approaches.

"It took two longs days before Obama dispelled any notions of a change in U.S. Middle East policy," said As'ad Abu Khalil, Lebanese-born and pro-Palestinian professor of political science at California State University.

"Obama's speech was quite something. It was like sprinkling sulphuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza," he added.

But Obama's diplomatic activism and promises of engagement on Arab-Israeli conflicts does at least address one of the conservatives' main grievances about former President George W. Bush -- that he ignored the conflict for too long and never put his full weight behind any Middle East peace plan.

A senior member of the Saudi ruling family, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said Bush had left "a sickening legacy" in the Middle East and had contributed through arrogance to Israel's slaughter of innocent people in Gaza over the past month.

"If the United States wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact ... it will have to revise drastically its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine," he added.

Jamal Khashoggi, editor of the Saudi newspaper al-Watan, said the Saudi government was still optimistic about Obama, whom it sees as a possible friend to the Muslim world.

"Even the few Saudi officials who liked Bush were disappointed with him in the last two years," he added.

Maverick Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took the opportunity of Obama's advent to refloat his own pet proposal -- that Israelis and Palestinians live together in one state.


Prince Turki, a nephew of King Abdullah and a former ambassador to Washington, said Washington should back the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which offers Israel peace and normal relations in return for withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

In his policy statement on Thursday, Obama said the Arab peace offer contained what he called constructive elements.

But he then called on Arab governments to carry out their half of the bargain -- "taking steps toward normalizing relations with Israel" -- without suggesting that Israel should meet the parallel Arab demand for territorial withdrawal.

Obama gave full backing to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Western-backed prime minister, ignoring the political weight of Hamas and other groups opposed to Abbas.

He repeated the controversial conditions which the Quartet of external powers in 2006 for dealing with Hamas -- recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Some analysts had speculated that Obama might bring a new approach to dealings with Hamas and other Middle East forces which retain the right to armed struggle against Israel.

Obama even linked ending the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza -- one of the roots of the recent fighting -- to restoring Abbas's control of Gaza's borders. That could perpetuate the present blockade for months or years to come.

U.S. reconstruction aid for Gaza will also be channeled exclusively through Abbas, who has no control over Gaza.

The new president followed the traditional U.S. approach of relying on Egypt to mediate between Israel and Hamas and to stop Hamas in Gaza receiving weapons through smuggling.

But Egypt failed to bring Hamas and Israel together on an agreed ceasefire and Israel says that Cairo's anti-smuggling efforts along the Gaza-Egypt border fall far short.

Hamas dismissed Obama's first venture into Middle East policy making as more of the same failed U.S. strategy.

"It seems Obama is trying to repeat the same mistakes that George Bush made without taking into consideration Bush's experience that resulted in the explosion of the region," the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told Al Jazeera.

The pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper As-Safir added: "The new American President inspired by Bush's positions ... Obama continues the Israeli war on the Palestinian people."

"(Obama) disappointed many hopes set on his balance and moderate views toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, since his positions allows Israel to continue what it began in its last war on Gaza," the newspaper added.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Beirut

and Riyadh newsroom;

Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

Obama Acts Fast on Mideast, But Substance Familiar,
NYT, 23.1.2009,









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