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History > 2011 > USA > International (I)





President Obama on the Situation in Egypt


The President speaks out

on the protests in Egypt,

urging the Egyptian government

to show restrain

 and address the legitimate grievances

of the Egyptian people.

28 January 2011




















Protests in Egypt - President Obama's YouTube Interview 2011

In Thursday's citizen-powered YouTube interview with Obama,

the President speaks about the conflict in Egypt.

YouTube > White House




President Obama answers questions on a wide range of issues

submitted by and voted on by YouTube users

in an interview moderated by YouTube's Steve Grove.

YouTube > White House

January 27, 2011



















Clinton Calls for Calm, Restraint in Egypt

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

on Wednesday urged the Egyptian government

not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications,

including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter,

as anti-government demonstrations continued.

(Jan. 26, 2011)

YouTube > AP
















2 Detained Reporters

Saw Secret Police’s

Methods Firsthand


February 4, 2011
The New York Times



WE had been detained by Egyptian authorities, handed over to the country’s dreaded Mukhabarat, the secret police, and interrogated. They left us all night in a cold room, on hard orange plastic stools, under fluorescent lights.

But our discomfort paled in comparison to the dull whacks and the screams of pain by Egyptian people that broke the stillness of the night. In one instance, between the cries of suffering, an officer said in Arabic, “You are talking to journalists? You are talking badly about your country?”

A voice, also in Arabic, answered: “You are committing a sin. You are committing a sin.”

We — Souad Mekhennet, Nicholas Kulish and a driver, who is not a journalist and was not involved in the demonstrations — were detained Thursday afternoon while driving into Cairo. We were stopped at a checkpoint and thus began a 24-hour journey through Egyptian detention, ending with — we were told by the soldiers who delivered us there — the secret police. When asked, they declined to identify themselves.

Captivity was terrible. We felt powerless — uncertain about where and how long we would be held. But the worst part had nothing to do with our treatment. It was seeing — and in particular hearing through the walls of this dreadful facility — the abuse of Egyptians at the hands of their own government.

For one day, we were trapped in the brutal maze where Egyptians are lost for months or even years. Our detainment threw into haunting relief the abuses of security services, the police, the secret police and the intelligence service, and explained why they were at the forefront of complaints made by the protesters.

Many journalists shared this experience, and many were kept in worse conditions — some suffering from injuries as well.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, over the period we were held there were 30 detentions of journalists, 26 assaults and 8 instances of equipment being seized. We saw a journalist with his head bandaged and others brought in with jackets thrown over their heads as they were led by armed men.

In the morning, we could hear the strained voice of a man with a French accent calling out in English: “Where am I? What is happening to me? Answer me. Answer me.”

This prompted us into action — pressing to be released with more urgency, and indeed fear, than before. A plainclothes officer who said his name was Marwan gestured to us. “Come to the door,” he said, “and look out.”

We saw more than 20 people, Westerners and Egyptians, blindfolded and handcuffed. The room had been empty when we arrived the evening before.

“We could be treating you a lot worse,” he said in a flat tone, the facts speaking for themselves. Marwan said Egyptians were being held in the thousands. During the night we heard them being beaten, screaming after every blow.

We were on our way back to Cairo after reporting about the demonstrations from Alexandria for The Times. We were traveling with journalists from the German public television station ZDF, a normal practice in such conditions — safety in numbers.

At the outskirts of Cairo, we were stopped at what looked like a civilian checkpoint.

We had been through many checkpoints without problems, but after the driver opened our trunk a tremendous uproar began. They saw a large black bag with an orange ZDF microphone poking out. In the tense environment, television crews had been attacked and accused of creating anti-Egyptian propaganda. We had been in the middle of a near-riot with the same crew the day before.

The crowd shouted and banged on the car, pulling the doors open. The ZDF crew in the other car managed to drive off, while we were stuck. Instead of dragging us out as we expected, two men pushed their way into the backseat. We were relieved that they were taking us from the crowd, until one pulled out his police identification. Rather than helping us escape, he was now detaining us.

The officer gave the driver directions to an impromptu police station in the Sharabiya district of Cairo, on the roof of a lumber warehouse. The officer in charge there, who identified himself as Ehab, said they were the secret police.

They searched the ZDF bags and found much more than just a camera. “We have a woman with a German passport of Arab origin and an American in a car with camera, satellite equipment and $10,000,” he said. “This is very suspicious. I think they need to be checked.”

Anxiety turned to anticipation when we were driven to a military base. The military had been the closest thing Egypt had to a guarantor of stability and we thought once we explained who we were and provided documentation we would be allowed to go to our hotel.

In a strange exchange that only made sense later, Ms. Mekhennet asked a soldier, “Where are you taking us?” The soldier answered: “My heart goes out to you. I’m sorry.”

After driving to several more bases we were told we were being handed over to the Mukhabarat at their headquarters in Nasr City.

It was sundown when they had us bring everything in from the car. The items were inventoried, from socks and a water bottle to a band of 50 $100 bills. Our cellphones, cameras and computers were confiscated.

We were taken to separate rooms with brown leather padded walls and interrogated individually. Mr. Kulish’s interrogator spoke perfect English and joked about the television show “Friends,” mentioning that he had lived in Florida and Texas.

The Mukhabarat has had a working relationship with American intelligence, including the C.I.A.’s so-called rendition program of prison transfers. During our questioning, a man nearby was being beaten — the sickening sound somewhere between a thud and a thwack. Between his screams someone yelled in Arabic, “You’re a traitor working with foreigners.”

Egyptian journalists had a freer hand than many in the region’s police states, but the secret police kept a close eye on both journalists and their sources. As the protests became more violent, a campaign of intimidation against journalists and the Egyptians speaking to them became apparent. We appeared to have stumbled into the middle of it.

Ms. Mekhennet asked her interrogator, “Where are we?” The interrogator answered, “You are nowhere.”

We were blindfolded and led to the blank room where we would spend the night and into the next afternoon on the orange plastic chairs. The screams from the torture made it nearly impossible to think.

We were not physically abused. Ms. Mekhennet explained that she had been sick and a man appeared with a blood-pressure gauge, but she declined the offer. One officer gave each of us Pepsi and a small package of cookies. It was after 10 o’clock at night, and we had not eaten since breakfast, but the agonizing cries instantly stilled our appetites.

We were told we could go in the morning, and starting at 6 a.m. we asked repeatedly to be released.

Marwan first appeared around 11 a.m. He became visibly annoyed by our requests, complaining that thousands of Egyptians civilians were in detention. He did not appreciate our sense of entitlement.

That was when he opened the door and showed us our handcuffed, blindfolded colleagues from international news outlets. He said that he was exhausted, but would find our cellphones and computers.

About an hour later, we were given back our belongings. Our greatest fear, that the innocent driver would be kept for “processing,” did not come to pass.

We left together, with pangs of guilt as we saw our blindfolded, injured colleagues again, and new people led in, past guards with bulletproof vests and assault rifles.

Were we going to a hotel? we asked.

“You don’t get to know that,” a guard answered.

They put us in our car with orders to put our heads down. “Look down, and don’t talk. If you look up you will see something you don’t ever want to see.”

They left us that way for 10 minutes. The only sounds were of guns being loaded and checked and duct-tape ripping.

An interrogator appeared and asked our driver, “What did you do in Tahrir Square?” He said we weren’t there. The interrogator said to the driver, “So you’re a traitor to your country.”

In Arabic, Ms. Mekhennet, a German citizen with Arab roots, kept telling the questioner that we are journalists for The New York Times. “You came here to make this country look bad,” the interrogator said.

We were told we would be driving out in our car, but escorted by a man with an assault rifle. Again, we were told to look down.

Finally, after a while, our escort ordered the driver to stop the car and got out. “You can go now.”

The driver began yelling “Alhamdulillah” or “Praise be to God.” We looked around and realized we were alone, somewhere in the middle of Cairo, but away from the protests, the normal street traffic slowly moving past.

    2 Detained Reporters Saw Secret Police’s Methods Firsthand, NYT, 4.2.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/weekinreview/06held.html






Egypt Officials Seek to Nudge Mubarak Out


February 4, 2011
The New York Times


CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak appeared increasingly isolated on Friday, as hundreds of thousands of protesters returned to Tahrir Square and the Obama administration and some members of the Egyptian military and civilian elite pursued plans to nudge him from power.

The country’s newly named vice president, Omar Suleiman, and other top military leaders were discussing steps to limit Mr. Mubarak’s decision-making authority and possibly remove him from the presidential palace in Cairo — though not to strip him of his presidency immediately, Egyptian and American officials said. A transitional government headed by Mr. Suleiman would then negotiate with opposition figures to amend Egypt’s Constitution and begin a process of democratic changes.

Administration officials said that among the ideas that had been discussed were suggesting to Mr. Mubarak that he move to his home at Sharm el Sheik, the seaside resort, or that he embark on one of his annual medical leaves to Germany for an extended checkup. Such steps would provide him with a graceful exit and effectively remove him as the central political player, going partway toward addressing a central demand of protesters on the streets of Cairo.

Meanwhile, Mr. Suleiman and top military officers are being encouraged to have detailed discussions with opposition groups, conversations that would ultimately include how to open up the political system, establish term limits for the president and enshrine some key democratic principles ahead of elections scheduled for September.

“None of this can happen if Mubarak is at the center of the process,” said one senior administration official. “But it doesn’t necessarily require the president to leave office right now.”

Opposition leaders, however, have insisted that they will not negotiate with Mr. Suleiman until Mr. Mubarak is out of office. They have been counting on the impact of his resignation, should it occur, to ensure that senior Egyptian officials do not try to derail the movement toward a constitutional democracy.

At a news conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, President Obama said he believed that the Egyptian president had already made a “psychological break” from his hold on office by announcing that he would not run again. Mr. Obama again stopped short of declaring that Mr. Mubarak should leave office sooner, but he set out a series of steps that the Egyptian government must meet to assure an “orderly transition” that seemed to all but require that the Egyptian leader step out of the way, if not resign.

Mr. Mubarak said in an interview Thursday with ABC that he was eager to step down, but that if he did, “Egypt would sink into chaos.”

Leaders of the country’s opposition movements are already warning of the risk of another military-backed president for life if the military elite currently negotiating a transition from Mr. Mubarak were to block broader change.

But several groups of prominent intellectuals and political analysts are pushing plans to endorse an initial transfer of power to Mr. Suleiman, who already appears to be governing in Mr. Mubarak’s place, they said.

“The reality on the ground is that the vice president is the one managing the situation and what we want to do is legalize it,” said Wahid Abdel Neguid, the deputy director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and one of the figures working on the plans. “Given the current situation, the president really can’t do anything, not here and not abroad, given the amount of pressure that is on him.”

The groups putting forward the proposal include Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to the United States; Naguib Sawiris, one of the most prominent businessmen in Egypt; Ahmed Kamal Aboul Magd, a lawyer and influential Islamic thinker; and Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist. One group met Friday at the office of Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League and perhaps the most popular political figure in Egypt.

Mr. Suleiman, a former military officer, appears to share power with two close allies, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, and Ahmed Shafiq, the prime minister, a retired general who previously ran the country’s national airline, said Abdel Moneim Qattou, a retired Army general close to all three.

But the three find themselves squeezed between their loyalties to Mr. Mubarak on one side and the military on the other, Mr. Qattou said. They have been unwilling to push Mr. Mubarak out, he said. But they are also unwilling or unable to deploy the military against the protesters — a move that would cut deeply against its self-image and prestige.

“The three of them are military men,” Mr. Qattou said. “They know each other very well and they are together trying to find a way out of this crisis. They want to do this without spilling blood and without hurting the dignity of Egypt or Mubarak while fulfilling the demands of the masses.”

There appeared to be signs on Friday that the three men may be recalibrating their positions. Mr. Shafiq announced for the first time that the government would make no effort to clear Tahrir Square, allowing the protesters to remain indefinitely.

Field Marshal Tantawi, meanwhile, visited the square himself in the morning to inspect the troops stationed around the Egyptian Museum. It was the first appearance there by any of the country’s top officials, and protesters and military experts took it as a signal to Mr. Mubarak’s plainclothes supporters not to assault the square again.

A cheer rose from the protesters as soon as Field Marshal Tantawi appeared, and they clasped hands to form a barrier around the area where he was walking. Several said they wanted to ensure that no Mubarak-supporting provocateur tried to incite violence.

Mr. Obama repeated twice at his news conference that exactly how the transition would occur is “not a decision ultimately the United States makes or any country outside of Egypt makes.” But he laid out a series of principles that seemed designed to hem Mr. Mubarak in, and reduce his options.

“Going back to the old ways is not going to work,” he said. One official said that these messages were being reinforced in what he called an effort to “flood the zone” with calls to military leaders, members of the Egyptian elite, and legislators. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates made another call to his Egyptian counterpart on Friday, part of the effort to assure that the military kept enough peace on the streets for serious discussions with the opposition to begin.

But administration officials remain concerned that removing Mr. Mubarak too early could create constitutional problems that would establish a political void. Under the existing Constitution, the speaker of the Parliament would take power, at least in name, if Mr. Mubarak resigned.

Opposition leaders contend that the existing Constitution so favors the governing party that it should be thrown out immediately and that Parliament, which is dominated by Mr. Mubarak’s party, should be disbanded.

In the opening stages of what promises to be a protracted round of negotiations, the diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei said in a news conference at his home near Cairo that opposition lawyers were preparing an interim Constitution. He said the opposition was calling on Mr. Mubarak to turn over power to a council of two to five members who would run the country until elections within a year.

Only one member would come from the military, Mr. ElBaradei said, adding that the armed forces’ most important task now was to “protect Egypt’s transition period in a smooth manner.”

“We have no interest in retribution,” he said. “Mubarak must leave in dignity and save his country.”

Mohamed el-Beltagui, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamist group that had been the major opposition in Egypt until the secular youth revolt, said that the organization would not run a candidate in any election to succeed Mr. Mubarak as president.

He said his members wanted to rebut Mr. Mubarak’s argument to the West that his iron-fisted rule was a crucial bulwark against Islamic extremism. “It is not a retreat,” he said in an interview at the group’s informal headquarters in the square. “It is to take away the scare tactics that Hosni Mubarak uses to deceive the people here and abroad that he should stay in power.”

Mr. Beltagui, who represents the Brotherhood on an opposition committee to negotiate a transitional government, said the group wanted a “civil state,” not a religious one. “We are standing for a real democracy, with general freedom and a real sense of social justice.”

Like many others in the square, Mr. Beltagui said he was not worried that the military might back a new dictator to succeed Mr. Mubarak. He said the determination of the protesters would forestall that, and noted that a religious leader who appeared to back away from some of the protesters’ democratic demands was booed from a makeshift stage in Tahrir Square.

Nor was he worried about new violence from Mubarak supporters. “They would be crazy,” he said.

The atmosphere in Tahrir Square reverted from embattled to jubilant. The protesters abandoned their makeshift barriers to chant, pray and sing the national anthem around the center of the square, where newcomers carried in bags of bread and water. Tens of thousands of others demonstrated in Alexandria and Suez.

Enthusiastic cheers rose several times at the appearance of Mr. Moussa, a straight-talking, charismatic foreign minister here in the 1990s whom Mr. Mubarak moved to the less-threatening position as head of the Arab League.

Mohamed Rafah Tahtawy, the public spokesman for Al Azhar — the center of Sunni Muslim learning and Egypt’s highest, state-run religious authority — said he was resigning to join the revolt.

“My position is a position of support to the revolution all the way,” he said. “I am part of it till the last drop of my blood.”

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Kareem Fahim, Mona El-Naggar and Liam Stack contributed reporting from Cairo.

    Egypt Officials Seek to Nudge Mubarak Out, NYT, 4.2.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/world/middleeast/05egypt.html






Egyptian Government Figures Join Protesters


February 4, 2011
The New York Times


CAIRO — With signs of fracturing within Egypt’s ruling elite, hundreds of thousands of people packed Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Friday, chanting slogans, bowing in prayer and waving Egyptian flags to press a largely peaceful campaign for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak.

As the uprising entered its 11th day, there were few signs of the violent Mubarak supporters who the protesters said were organized and dispatched by the Mubarak government over the last two days in an effort to capture the initiative. Lurking fears among the opposition that their movement may have lost momentum were banished by the sheer numbers of the protesters and the level of their passion.

Some carried baskets of bread, food and water for those who camped out in the central square overnight after days of running battles, urging the president to depart at one of the most decisive moments in Egypt since the 1952 revolution against the monarchy. “Leave, leave, leave,” protesters chanted.

Tens of thousands of jubilant protesters turned out in the port city of Alexandria, the site of bitter and deadly clashes in the last week.

Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister serving Mr. Mubarak, appeared among the crowds in Tahrir Square, seeming to align himself with the protest. Twice he sought to address the crowd, but both times he was drowned out by roars of approval at what seemed a tacit endorsement of their cause.

Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister and deputy prime minister, appeared in the square — the first member of the ruling government elite to do so — but he seemed to be concerned mostly with reviewing the troops and did not seek to speak to the crowd, though he did chat with some protesters.

And Mohamed Rafah Tahtawy, the public spokesman for Al Azhar — the center of Sunni Muslim learning and Egypt’s highest, state-run religious authority — told reporters that he was resigning because “I am participating in the protests and I have issued statements that support the revolutionists as far as they go.”

The government had broadened its crackdown on Thursday, arresting journalists and human rights advocates across an edgy city, while offering more concessions in a bid to win support from a population growing frustrated with a devastated economy and scenes of chaos in the streets.

But, after a night of scattered clashes and bursts of gunfire, an uneasy calm gave way to what seemed jubilation on Friday as antigovernment protesters mustered for what they have called a “Friday of departure.” Television images showed thousands of protesters crowded beneath the palm trees of Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city on the Mediterranean coast, waving Egyptian flags and demanding Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Just a week ago, demonstrators poured from Cairo’s many mosques after noon prayers on the Muslim holy day to press their uprising, and there seemed to be a similar surge on Friday. But one big difference was that last week the protesters confronted the police at the start of a day of violence and looting. Since then, though, the uniformed police force has largely disappeared from the streets and the protesters have clashed with their pro-Mubarak adversaries.

On Friday, there were no immediate signs of the pro-Mubarak camp.

On one approach to Tahrir Square on Friday, two orderly lines of protesters stretched back hundreds of yards on the Kasr al-Nil bridge, their progress slowed by elite paratroops who threw razor wire across the bridge and searched demonstrators as they arrived — apparently a new attempt by the military to assert some control.

On Thursday, the authorities said that neither Mr. Mubarak nor his son Gamal, long seen as a contender for power, would run for president. They also offered dialogue with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, a gesture almost unthinkable weeks ago.

For its part, the Brotherhood insisted on Friday that it had no ambitions to field presidential candidates if those talks took place. But, speaking to reporters in Tahrir Square, Mohammed el-Beltagui, a leading member of the outlawed group, said that if Mr. Mubarak left, the Brotherhood — the most organized opposition in the country — would not present a candidate for election.

“It is not a retreat,” Mr. Beltagui said. “It is to take away the scare tactics that Hosni Mubarak uses to deceive the people here and abroad that he should stay in power.” A close ally of the United States, Mr. Mubarak has cast himself for years as a bulwark against Islamic extremism.

The Brotherhood has assumed an increasingly prominent role in the uprising, but its disavowal of long-term political ambitions seemed to contradict an assertion on Friday from Iran that Egypt was in the throes of an Islamic revolution similar to the tumult that ended the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in Tehran in 1979.

“The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement, and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said at Friday prayers in Tehran, which were broadcast on television, Reuters reported.

On a larger scale than on previous days, thousands of people in Tahrir Square sank to their knees at noon as loudspeakers amplified the sound of prayers filling the air. But those in the square reflected a cross-section of society, not just members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The minute the prayers were over, the square erupted in slogans of defiance, urging Mr. Mubarak to go.

Many said their determination was blending with a fear that if they lost, the protesters and their organizers would bear the brunt of a withering crackdown.

“If we can’t bring this to an end, we’re going to all be in the slammer by June,” said Murad Mohsen, a doctor treating the wounded at a makeshift clinic near barricades, where thousands fought off droves of government supporters with rocks and firebombs.

On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been authorized by the protesters to negotiate with the authorities, said that, despite the authorities’ offers of negotiation, no one from government had contacted him or any other opposition leader.

At a news conference at his home in Giza, close to the pyramids, Mr. ElBaradei said Mr. Mubarak’s adversaries had already begun drawing up a constitution and were seeking the creation of a council of two to five members — including a representative from the powerful military — to oversee reform over a one year period. It was the first public suggestion of a formal proposal for transition.

“The earlier he goes with dignity the better it will be for everybody,” Mr. ElBaradei said, referring to Mr. Mubarak.

He said the young people propelling the uprising were not interested in retribution. “The Egyptian people are not a bloodthirsty people,” he said. The conciliatory tone of his remarks contrasted with the demands of some protesters for Mr. Mubarak’s execution.

“We need to move the current dictatorship and all of its apparatus to a democracy,” he said.

Mr. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel laureate, took issue sharply with remarks by Mr. Mubarak in an interview with ABC News on Thursday when he said that he was fed up with ruling but that his precipitate departure would cause chaos.

“We as a people are fed up as well, it is not only him,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “The idea that there would be chaos is symptomatic of a dictatorship. He thinks if he leaves power the whole country will fall apart.”

From festive scenes of just days ago, the revolt on Thursday had become more martial, as exhausted men defended what they described as the perimeter of a free Egypt around Tahrir Square. Their demands have grown more forceful and the uprising more radical. After pitched clashes of two days that left at least seven dead and hundreds wounded, banners in Tahrir Square declared Mr. Mubarak “a war criminal,” and several in the crowd said that the president should be executed. Major television networks were largely unable to broadcast from the square on Thursday.

On Friday, the mood seemed to have swung back to an atmosphere of celebration.

On Thursday, the United States joined a chorus of criticism, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying, “We condemn in the strongest terms attacks on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners and diplomats.”

The government’s strategy seems motivated at turning broader opinion in the country against the protests and perhaps wearing down the demonstrators themselves, some of whom seemed exhausted by the clashes. Vice President Omar Suleiman, appointed Saturday to a position that Mr. Mubarak had until then refused to fill, appealed to Egypt’s sense of decency in allowing Mr. Mubarak to serve out his term, and he chronicled the mounting losses that, he said, the uprising had inflicted on a crippled Egyptian economy.

“End your sit-in,” he said. “Your demands have been answered.”

In interviews and statements, the government has increasingly spread an image that foreigners were inciting the uprising, a refrain echoed in the streets. The suggestions are part of a days-long Egyptian media campaign that has portrayed the protesters as troublemakers and ignored the scope of an uprising with diffuse goals and leadership.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it had 100 reports of attacks on journalists. Al Jazeera, the influential Arabic channel, said government supporters stormed the Hilton Hotel in Cairo, searching for journalists, and two of its reporters were attacked. A Greek journalist was stabbed with a screwdriver and others were beaten and harassed.

Police also raided the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, a headquarters for many of the international human rights organizations working in Egypt. The human rights workers were told to lie on the floor and the chips were removed from the telephones, someone present in the building said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Liam Stack, Kareem Fahim and Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo.

    Egyptian Government Figures Join Protesters, NYT, 4.2.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/world/middleeast/05egypt.html






Pakistani Nuclear Arms Pose Challenge to U.S. Policy


January 31, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — New American intelligence assessments have concluded that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since President Obama came to office, and that it is building the capability to surge ahead in the production of nuclear-weapons material, putting it on a path to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapons power.

For the Obama administration, the assessment poses a direct challenge to a central element of the president’s national security strategy, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world. Pakistan’s determination to add considerably to its arsenal — mostly to deter India — has also become yet another irritant in its often testy relationship with Washington, particularly as Pakistan seeks to block Mr. Obama’s renewed efforts to negotiate a global treaty that would ban the production of new nuclear material.

The United States keeps its estimates of foreign nuclear weapons stockpiles secret, and Pakistan goes to great lengths to hide both the number and location of its weapons. It is particularly wary of the United States, which Pakistan’s military fears has plans to seize the arsenal if it was judged to be at risk of falling into the hands of extremists. Such secrecy makes accurate estimates difficult.

But the most recent estimates, according to officials and outsiders familiar with the American assessments, suggest that the number of deployed weapons now ranges from the mid-90s to more than 110. When Mr. Obama came to office, his aides were told that the arsenal “was in the mid-to-high 70s,” according to one official who had been briefed at the time, though estimates ranged from 60 to 90.

“We’ve seen a consistent, constant buildup in their inventory, but it hasn’t been a sudden rapid rise,” a senior American military official said. “We’re very, very well aware of what they’re doing.”

White House officials share the assessment that the increase in actual weapons has been what one termed “slow and steady.”

But the bigger worry is the production of nuclear materials. Based on the latest estimates of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, an outside group that estimates worldwide nuclear production, experts say Pakistan has now produced enough material for 40 to 100 additional weapons, including a new class of plutonium bombs. If those estimates are correct — and some government officials regard them as high — it would put Pakistan on a par with long-established nuclear powers.

“If not now, Pakistan will soon have the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world, surpassing the United Kingdom,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer and the author of “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad.”

“And judging by the new nuclear reactors that are coming online and the pace of production, Pakistan is on a course to be the fourth largest nuclear weapons state in the world, ahead of France,” he said. The United States, Russia and China are the three largest nuclear weapons states.

Mr. Riedel conducted the first review of Pakistan and Afghanistan policy for President Obama in early 2009.

Pakistan’s arsenal of deployed weapons is considered secure, a point the White House reiterated last week while declining to answer questions about its new estimates. The United States has spent more than $100 million helping the country build fences, install sensor systems and train personnel to handle the weapons. But senior officials remain deeply concerned that weapons-usable fuel, which is kept in laboratories and storage centers, is more vulnerable and could be diverted by insiders in Pakistan’s vast nuclear complex.

In State Department cables released by WikiLeaks late last year, Anne Patterson, then the American ambassador to Pakistan, wrote of concerns that nuclear material in Pakistan’s laboratories was vulnerable to slow theft from insiders. The cables also revealed an American effort to deny its ally technology that it could use to upgrade its arsenal to plutonium weapons.

“The biggest concern of major production, to my mind, is theft from the places where the material is being handled in bulk — the plants that produce it, convert it to metal, fabricate it into bomb parts, and so on,” said Matthew Bunn, a Harvard scholar who compiles an annual report called “Securing the Bomb” for the group Nuclear Threat Initiative. “All but one of the real thefts” of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, he said, “were insider thefts from bulk-handling facilities — that’s where you can squirrel a little bit away without the loss being detected.”

On Monday, The Washington Post, citing nongovernment analysts, said Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal now numbered more than 100 deployed weapons. In interviews over the past three weeks, government officials from several countries, including India, which has an interest in raising the alarm about Pakistani capability, provided glimpses of their own estimates.

Almost all, however, said their real concern was not the weapons, but the increase in the production of material, especially plutonium. Pakistan is completing work on a large new plutonium production reactor, which will greatly increase its ability to produce a powerful new generation of weapons, but also defies Mr. Obama’s initiative to halt the production of weapons-grade material.

Nuclear projects are managed by the Pakistani military, but the country’s top civilian leaders are, on paper, part of the nuclear chain of command. Last year, Pakistan’s prime minister visited the new plutonium reactor at Kushab, suggesting at least some level of knowledge about the program. “We think the civilians are fully in the loop,” one senior Obama administration official said.

Still, it is unclear how Pakistan is financing the new weapons production, at a time of extraordinary financial stress in the country. “What does Pakistan need with that many nuclear weapons, especially given the state of the country’s economy?” said one foreign official who is familiar with the country’s plans, but agreed to discuss the classified program if granted anonymity.

“The country already has more than enough weapons for an effective deterrent against India,” the official said. “This is just for the generals to say they have more than India.”

American officials have been careful not to discuss Pakistan’s arsenal in public, for fear of further inflaming tensions and fueling Pakistani fears that the United States was figuring how to secure the weapons in an emergency, or a government collapse. But in November Mr. Obama’s top nuclear adviser, Gary Samore, criticized Pakistan for seeking to block talks on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which, if negotiated and adopted, could threaten Pakistan’s program.

In interviews last year, senior Pakistani officials said that they were infuriated by the deal Washington struck to provide civilian nuclear fuel to India, charging it had freed up India’s homemade fuel to produce new weapons. As a result, they said, they had no choice but to boost their own production and oppose any treaty that would cut into their ability to match India’s arsenal.

In a statement in December, the Pakistan’s National Command Authority, which overseas the arsenal, said that it “rejects any effort to undermine its strategic deterrence,” adding, “Pakistan will not be a party to any approach that is prejudicial to its legitimate national security interests.”

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Friday that Mr. Obama remained “confident” about the security of Pakistani weapons, and said he “continues to encourage all nations to support the commencement of negotiations on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.” Other officials say efforts are now under way to find a way to start negotiations in new forums, away from Pakistani influence.

A senior Pakistani military officer declined Monday to confirm the size of his country’s nuclear arsenal or the describe rates of production, saying that information was classified.

“People are getting unduly concerned about the size of our stockpile,” said the officer, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “What we have is a credible, minimum nuclear deterrent. It’s a bare minimum.”

    Pakistani Nuclear Arms Pose Challenge to U.S. Policy, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/world/asia/01policy.html






Egypt Poses P.R. Challenge for New White House Team


February 1, 2011
6:28 am
The New York Times


Days of mounting unrest in Egypt have turned into a delicate public relations challenge for the White House as a number of new players in the West Wing try to craft messages for President Obama that will resonate well overseas and at home.

The president’s advisers on Monday struggled to maintain a carefully calibrated position regarding the future of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, in the face of intense pressure from protesters in Egypt and tough questions from the American press corps.

“You have to deal with many things happening at once. And that’s what this administration continues to do.”

— Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary

At the same time, Mr. Obama’s political team is seeking to avoid a loss of the momentum that the president picked up domestically in the last two months. Aides staged a small-business event at the White House on Monday and an economy focused trip this week will go forward.

Overseeing both of those communication efforts are several newcomers to the administration — some of whom are just settling into their west Wing offices but are already responsible for managing a major foreign policy crisis and its inevitable political ramifications.

William Daley, the new White House chief of staff, has been on the job for only two weeks. David Plouffe replaced David Axelrod as the senior political voice in the West Wing just days ago. Tom Donilon was promoted to serve as the national security adviser in October.

They join veterans of the White House, like Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, director of the C.I.A. But the changes inside the White House have been striking: last week alone, the administration announced changes involving 14 new or reshuffled aides.

A senior administration official said Mr. Daley has been “fully integrated” into the policy and communications meetings regarding the events unfolding in Egypt. But the official said Mr. Donilon has been running the behind-the-scenes discussions.

“It’s no secret that Tom’s style is one of running a very intense process,” the official said. “Lots of meetings. Lots of inter-agency coordination. A very aggressive process. We are meeting very frequently at all levels of our government, insuring that we have the most up to date information for when we need to brief the president.”

Those discussions have focused intensely on the messages that the administration believes should be coming from the White House, the State Department and other parts of the United States government, the official said.

“In this instance, the message is so integrated with the policy,” the official said. “It’s certainly one big part of what the conversation is.”

At his briefing with reporters on Monday, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, repeatedly refused to say whether the United States government believes Mr. Mubarak should leave.

Again and again, Mr. Gibbs, who will also leave the White House next month, endorsed what the White House has decided should be a bedrock principle in this kind of situation: an “orderly transition” to a government that respects the human and political rights of its people.

But Mr. Gibbs would not say whether such an orderly transition would require the departure of Mr. Mubarak, as many of the protesters in the streets of Egypt are demanding.

“That is not for our government to determine,” he said repeatedly. “That is for the people of Egypt to determine. So I have not weighed in on anything other than — as we have throughout this process — on the side of the people of Egypt to determine what Egypt looks like in their future.”

Depending on how they play out, the events in Egypt could end up having real effects on the economic recovery in the United States by driving up the price of oil and creating uncertainty in the markets.

And the potential for further unrest and even revolution spreading to other countries in the Middle East is a real threat, one that goes beyond a communications challenge.

But even if that doesn’t happen, White House aides recognize a political danger: Much of the attention of the American media has — at least temporarily — shifted away from the narrative of the turnaround in Mr. Obama’s political fortunes. Meanwhile, most Americans, though transfixed by the images from Egypt, remain primarily concerned about the economic situation in this country.

For Mr. Gibbs, the episode has a familiar feel. Several times in the past two years, Mr. Obama’s administration has been diverted from its primary message by crises around the country or the globe.

Last spring and summer, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico consumed the attention of the president and his staff for weeks as they rearranged his schedule, made trips to the region and even postponed his vacation to deal with the problem.

Early in his presidency, Obama aides spent weeks trying to reassure the public that they were safe from the swine flu — which the president declared a “national emergency” — even as the Congress debated the administration’s health care legislation and other first-year priorities.

And terror incidents in Fort Hood, Texas, Times Square and on a plane headed to Detroit quickly shifted attention away from discussions of the economy during the run-up to the midterm elections of 2010.

Distractions come with the job for all presidents, and White House officials are quick to insist that the administration has the resources to do more than one thing at a time. On Monday, Mr. Gibbs went out of his way to suggest that Mr. Obama’s plans to talk about the economy have not been altered because of the events in Egypt.

“Events happen that any administration and any government have to respond to,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters. “But at the same time, much as we dealt with over the previous two years, you have to deal with many things happening at once. And that’s what this administration continues to do.”

In fact, the president’s planned trip to State College, Pa., on Wednesday to discuss energy innovation has been postponed by a day — but not because of the Egypt situation. An e-mail message to reporters late Monday said the event had in fact been rescheduled because of a winter storm barreling through the Midwest.

    Egypt Poses P.R. Challenge for New White House Team, NYT, 1.2.2011, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/egypt-poses-pr-challenge-for-new-white-house-team/






Exhilarated by the Hope in Cairo


January 31, 2011
The New York Times



As I stand in Tahrir Square on Monday trying to interview protesters, dozens of people surging around me and pleading for the United States to back their call for democracy, the yearning and hopefulness of these Egyptians taking huge risks is intoxicating.

When I lived in Cairo many years ago studying Arabic, Tahrir Square, also called Liberation Square, always frankly carried a hint of menace. It was cacophonous and dirty, full of crazed motorists in dilapidated cars. That was way back at a time when the then-new Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, talked a good game about introducing democracy.

Now the manic drivers are gone, replaced by cheering throngs waving banners clamoring for the democracy they never got — and by volunteers who scrupulously pick up litter, establish order and hand out drinks and food.

“I’m going home right now to get food and drinks for the demonstrators,” one middle-age man, Waheed Hussein, told me as he hopped into his car near Tahrir Square shortly after curfew fell. While talking to me, he allowed a hitchhiker to jump in, and then the hitchhiker decided to bring back supplies as well. With great pride, the two new friends explained to me that this would be their contribution to the birth of an authentic Egyptian democracy.

In short, Tahrir Square has lost its menace and suddenly become the most exhilarating place in the world.

Yet one thing nags at me. These pro-democracy protesters say overwhelmingly that America is on the side of President Mubarak and not with them. They feel that way partly because American policy statements seem so nervous, so carefully calculated — and partly because these protesters were attacked with tear gas shells marked “made in U.S.A.”

The upshot is that this pro-democracy movement, full of courage and idealism and speaking the language of 1776, wasn’t inspired by us. No, the Egyptians said they feel inspired by Tunisia — and a bit stymied by America.

Everywhere I go, Egyptians insist to me that Americans shouldn’t perceive their movement as a threat. And I find it sad that Egyptians are lecturing Americans on the virtues of democracy.

“We need your support,” pleaded Dr. Mahmood Hussein, a physiology professor. “We need freedom.”

Ahmed Muhammad, a medical student, told me: “Egyptian people will not forget what Obama does today. If he supports the Egyptian dictator, the Egyptian people will never forget that. Not for 30 years.”

The movement is snowballing. Protesters scorn what they see as baby steps toward reform by Mr. Mubarak, when they insist that he must make a giant leap — away from Egypt.

As I see it, Mr. Mubarak’s only chance to stay in power is if he orders a violent crackdown, and if the Army obeys him. Neither is inevitable, but both, sadly, may still be possible. The mood was just as thrilling at Tiananmen before the soldiers opened fire in 1989.

It’s troubling that Mr. Mubarak still seems to be digging in. State television doesn’t even show images of Tahrir Square, and it emphasizes the chaos of recent days — perhaps trying to create a pretext for a crackdown.

And, yes, there is a measure of chaos. In my old neighborhood of Bab el-Luq, as in much of Cairo, young men stand at every intersection all night to man checkpoints aimed at stopping looters and criminals. The young men are armed with clubs, machetes and, occasionally, guns, and they carefully checked my ID. I passed through dozens of these checkpoints.

None of these armed men asked for money or were hostile; indeed, when they found out that I was an American journalist, they were as friendly as a gang of young men holding machetes and clubs can be. But it’s still true that armed roadblocks every 100 yards is not a sign of normal city life.

All of this presents the White House with a conundrum. It’s difficult to abandon a longtime ally like Mr. Mubarak, even if he has been corrupt and oppressive. But our messaging isn’t working, and many Egyptian pro-democracy advocates said they feel betrayed that Americans are obsessing on what might go wrong for the price of oil, for Israel, for the Suez Canal — instead of focusing on the prospect of freedom and democracy for the Egyptian people.

Maybe I’m too caught up in the giddiness of Tahrir Square, but I think the protesters have a point. Our equivocation isn’t working. It’s increasingly clear that stability will come to Egypt only after Mr. Mubarak steps down. It’s in our interest, as well as Egypt’s, that he resign and leave the country. And we also owe it to the brave men and women of Tahrir Square — and to our own history and values — to make one thing very clear: We stand with the peaceful throngs pleading for democracy, not with those who menace them.

    Exhilarated by the Hope in Cairo, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/opinion/01kristof.html






Exit the Israel Alibi


January 31, 2011
The New York Times


LONDON — One way to measure the immense distance traveled by Arabs over the past month is to note the one big subject they are not talking about: Israel.

For too long, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the great diversion, exploited by feckless Arab autocrats to distract impoverished populations. None of these Arab leaders ever bothered to visit the West Bank. That did not stop them embracing the justice of the Palestinian cause even as they trampled on justice at home.

Now, Arabs are thinking about their own injustices. With great courage, they are saying “Enough!”

The big shift is in the captive Arab mind. It is an immense journey from a culture of victimhood to one of self-empowerment, from a culture of conspiracy to one of construction. It is a long road from rage to responsibility, from humiliation to action.

The Muslim suicide bomber aims fury at a perceived outside enemy. Self-immolation, the spark to this great pan-Arab uprising, betrays similar desperation, but directed inward. The outer scapegoat is replaced as the target by the inner Arab culprit.

Change won’t come overnight, and won’t be without pain, but Arabs have embarked on it — and the United States must support them without equivocation. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, is finished: It is only a matter of time. No wonder the Obama administration is calling for an “orderly transition.”

Sure, there is risk. There always is in change. But nothing in the Arab genome says democracy, liberty and plain decency are unattainable.

Remember, Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attack, came from Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. The vast majority of Atta’s henchmen came from another U.S.-backed Arab autocracy, Saudi Arabia. They did not come from Iran. They did not come from Lebanon — or Gaza.

President George W. Bush was right in 2003: “As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.” And Condoleezza Rice was right to note that the U.S. promotion of “stability” — read autocracy — had allowed “a very malignant, meaning cancerous, form of extremism to grow up underneath.”

Bush and Rice were also, however, the authors of the Iraq invasion. This destroyed their credibility on Arab liberation. Their Middle East democracy agenda went nowhere. But, self-generated, it remains the right goal.

A 2008 study by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center found that 60 percent of Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters were of Saudi or Libyan origin: the handiwork of those alibi-seeking Arab despots again.

I spoke of risk. Egypt is not Tunisia, it’s the epicenter of the Arab world, self-styled “mother of the world,” a supporter of U.S. interests, a big nation that has made a cold peace with Israel. The direction it now takes will be pivotal to the region.

The arguments of those who say, “Better the devil you know” are already clear. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-prize-winning Egyptian opposition leader, has immense stature but no organization. The Muslim Brotherhood, Islamist Israel haters, will fill any void. Look at what Arab democracy brings: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and chaos in Iraq! You want that in Egyptian guise?

These arguments are facile, as Tunisia, with its very un-Islamic revolution, has just demonstrated, and Turkish democracy shows, and Egyptian restraint suggests. They only perpetuate Middle Eastern dysfunction. They ignore America’s sway over Egypt’s Army as a critical moderating force — and ElBaradei’s rapid emergence as unifier.

Yes, Iraqi democracy is messy, but will prove healthier than Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. A Hezbollah-backed prime minister just came to power in Lebanon, but through a constitutional process — and life goes on. The Palestinian stab at democracy has proved divisive but also produced in the West Bank precisely the move from a culture of victimhood and paralysis that other Arabs are now following.

Indeed, with its fast-growing economy and institution-building the West Bank is an example to the dawning Arab world — and would be more so if Israel helped rather than blocked and hindered.

Nothing good can get built on the false foundation of Arab absolutism with its decades of waste: That’s the irrefutable argument for change.

Images of Cairo 2011 plunge me back to Tehran 2009, when another repressive Muslim — but not Arab — nation stood on a razor’s edge. Henry Precht, an author and former U.S. diplomat, has pointed out some differences: 40 percent of Egyptians make less than $2 a day while such poverty is less widespread in Iran; Iranian women are far more present in universities; literacy is higher in Iran, the fertility rate lower. As Precht writes, “Iranian politics, though badly flawed, offers more elements of democracy than Egypt’s.”

These are perhaps some indices of why the Islamic Republic proved more resilient than Mubarak’s Egypt seems today. Still, Iran’s paranoid rulers will shudder at Egyptian people power.

A representative Egyptian government — the one whose birth pangs I believe we are witnessing — will talk about Israel one day and may be less pliant to America’s will. But it would carry a vital message for Arabs and Jews: Victimhood is self-defeating and paralyzing — and can be overcome.

    Exit the Israel Alibi, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/opinion/01iht-edcohen01.html






Allying Ourselves With the Next Egypt


The New York Times



EVEN if the protests shaking Egypt subside in the coming days, the chaos of the last week has forever changed the relationship between the Egyptian people and their government. The anger and aspirations propelling a diverse range of citizens into the streets will not disappear without sweeping changes in the social compact between the people and the government — and these events also call for changes in the relationship between the United States and a stalwart Arab ally.

President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure. One of the toughest jobs that a leader under siege can perform is to engineer a peaceful transition. But Egyptians have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.

Ushering in such a transformation offers President Mubarak — a great nationalist ever since his generation of young officers helped their country escape the last vestiges of British colonialism — the chance to end the violence and lawlessness, to begin improving the dire economic and social conditions in his country and to change his place in history.

It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge “fair” elections, as he did on Saturday. The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation.

Further, he must guarantee that the election will be honest and open to all legitimate candidates and conducted without interference from the military or security apparatus and under the oversight of international monitors. The Egyptian people are demanding wholesale transformation, not window dressing. As part of the transition, President Mubarak needs to work with the army and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government as soon as possible to oversee an orderly transition in the coming months.

President Mubarak has contributed significantly to Middle East peace. Now it is imperative that he contribute to peace in his own country by convincing Egyptians that their concerns and aspirations are being addressed. If he demonstrates leadership and accomplishes those goals, he can turn the Arab world’s most populous country into a model for how to meet the demands for reform engulfing the region.

Given the events of the past week, some are criticizing America’s past tolerance of the Egyptian regime. It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns. But there also was a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region. And make no mistake, a productive relationship with Egypt remains crucial for both us and the Middle East.

To that end, the United States must accompany our rhetoric with real assistance to the Egyptian people. For too long, financing Egypt’s military has dominated our alliance. The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked “Made in America” fired at protesters, United States-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo. Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt, as well as guarantee that American military assistance is accomplishing its goals — just as we are trying to do with Pakistan through a five-year nonmilitary assistance package.

The awakening across the Arab world must bring new light to Washington, too. Our interests are not served by watching friendly governments collapse under the weight of the anger and frustrations of their own people, nor by transferring power to radical groups that would spread extremism. Instead, the best way for our stable allies to survive is to respond to the genuine political, legal and economic needs of their people. And the Obama administration is already working to address these needs.

At other historic turning points, we have not always chosen wisely. We built an important alliance with a free Philippines by supporting the people when they showed Ferdinand Marcos the door in 1986. But we continue to pay a horrible price for clinging too long to Iran’s shah. How we behave in this moment of challenge in Cairo is critical. It is vital that we stand with the people who share our values and hopes and who seek the universal goals of freedom, prosperity and peace.

For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.

John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    Allying Ourselves With the Next Egypt, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/opinion/01kerry.html






U.S. Official With Egypt Ties to Meet With Mubarak


January 31, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has sent a diplomatic troubleshooter with close ties to Egypt on a mission to Cairo to meet with President Hosni Mubarak and other senior officials, as the administration struggles to gauge Mr. Mubarak’s intentions amid the fast-moving events there.

The diplomat, Frank G. Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt who knows Mr. Mubarak, landed in Cairo on Monday, said the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley. He declined to say whether Mr. Wisner, who served as ambassador from 1986 to 1991, was carrying a message from President Obama.

“He knows some of the key players within the Egyptian government,” Mr. Crowley said. The administration believed it would be “useful” for him to meet with Mr. Mubarak and bring his perspective, he said.

The choice of Mr. Wisner, 72, a respected elder of the foreign policy establishment, raised questions about whether the administration was using him as an emissary to gently prod Mr. Mubarak to resign. Administration officials declined to say whether they had sent Mr. Wisner with any kind of message.

But one senior official said, “When you have old friends get together, it’s a two-way conversation.”

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Crowley said: “We’ve sent a very clear message to Egypt, publicly and privately. But obviously Ambassador Wisner will have the opportunity to reinforce what we’ve already said.”

Mr. Wisner, who has also been an ambassador to Zambia, the Philippines and India, has experience in delicate diplomacy. In 2006 and 2007, he served as a special envoy for President George W. Bush, negotiating the independence of Kosovo and its recognition as a sovereign state by other countries.

“He negotiated very skillfully between the Serbs and the Kosovars,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state for political affairs, who worked with him during that period. “He is that rare person of high intellect and great operational capability. He is also a very persuasive person.”

Mr. Wisner’s father, also named Frank, was a top official at the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as at its predecessor agency, the Office of Strategic Services, at the end of World War II.

The younger Mr. Wisner was one of a circle of prominent diplomats who came of age during the Vietnam War — a group that included Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died in December. Mr. Wisner, a close friend of Mr. Holbrooke’s, spoke at a recent memorial service.

Although Mr. Wisner is a decade younger than the 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak, friends said he was the right generation to speak candidly to the president about his options. If he were to nudge Mr. Mubarak to step down, these people said, he probably would not do so immediately, but over a series of conversations.

“That’s the kind of guy you would choose to have that conversation,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former ambassador to both Egypt and Israel. “The key question, which we don’t know the answer to, is whether the administration has reached a decision on whether Mubarak should go.”

Publicly, the administration continued to insist that Mr. Mubarak’s future was a matter for the Egyptian people. Neither Mr. Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the matter on Monday, suggesting that they wanted to see how events on the ground were playing out before saying anything more.

Mr. Crowley said the administration was looking for evidence that Mr. Mubarak was opening Egypt’s political system. One indicator, he said, would be the revocation of Egypt’s emergency law, which has been in place since 1981 and gives the government sweeping powers to detain dissidents. The White House pleaded unsuccessfully with Mr. Mubarak not to reinstate the law last year.

Officials at the State Department said that Margaret Scobey, the current ambassador, was also in touch with the Egyptian government but that she was busy coordinating the evacuation of American citizens.

The State Department flew 1,200 Americans out of Egypt on Monday to destinations in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. Mr. Kurtzer said it made sense for the administration to open a private channel, after a week of public statements.

“There are a lot of reasons to do this, even if you haven’t made the ultimate decision of whether he should stay or go,” he said.

    U.S. Official With Egypt Ties to Meet With Mubarak, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/world/middleeast/01diplo.html






Al Jazeera English Finds an Audience


January 31, 2011
The New York Times


White House officials have turned to Al Jazeera English among other television channels to monitor the mounting protests in Egypt. But most Americans lack the same ability to tune in to the broadcaster, which is based in Qatar, because cable and satellite companies in the United States have largely refused its requests to be carried.

With the network’s coverage of the crisis drawing praise, however, Al Jazeera executives said Monday that they planned to renew their lobbying to be carried on cable systems across the United States..

“I sincerely hope now is the turning point,” Al Anstey, the managing director of Al Jazeera English, said by telephone from Doha, Qatar. The channel has won some American fans in recent days because of its live stream on the Internet, which has garnered more than 1.6 million views in the United States.

If major cable and satellite companies like Comcast and DirecTV are willing to carry Al Jazeera English, they were not willing to say so on Monday. Some of the companies said in statements that they have to balance the requests of many channels that want space on an already-crowded line-up of channels.

Al Jazeera English, however, is indisputably unique. In recent days, the channel, an offshoot of the main Arabic-language Al Jazeera, has gained attention for its up-close, around-the-clock coverage of the protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities in Egypt.

While American television networks were scrambling to move reporters and producers into Cairo, the Al Jazeera channels were already there. The other networks have noticed: on the roundtable portion of ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Sam Donaldson looked at an Al Jazeera reporter and said, “Thank you for what you’re doing.”

Al Jazeera began its English channel in 2006. It is generally accessible to viewers around the world, Mr. Anstey said. Inside the United States, however, there is full access in only a handful of cities: Washington D.C., Burlington, Vt. and Toledo, Ohio.

Mr. Anstey said he thought that the channel had suffered from “some misconceptions about what Al Jazeera stood for.” During the Iraq war, the Arabic-language channel was criticized by Bush administration officials, and as recently as Friday the conservative Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly branded Al Jazeera as “anti-America.”

But that view has been largely drowned out by people like Mr. Donaldson who have hoisted up Al Jazeera English for its protest coverage. Traffic to the English-language Web site has increased by 2,500 percent since Friday, Mr. Anstey said.

Mohamed Nanabhay, the head of online for the English language channel, said the Web site’s live stream had been viewed over 4 million times since Friday, and that 1.6 million of those views have come from the United States. “It’s just a testament to the fact that Americans do care about foreign news,” he said.

Furthering access to Al Jazeera English, on Monday YouTube started promoting its own live stream.

Some of the cable companies pointed to the live Web streams as evidence that cable carriage is less of an imperative. But the channel’s American supporters say that the stream is not equivalent to a channel in a cable line-up, and that by declining to pick up Al Jazeera English, cable and satellite companies are effectively restricting Americans’ views of the world.

Mr. Anstey’s channel has been holding meetings “at various levels” with cable and satellite companies since it started up in 2006. In statements that echoed one another on Monday, the companies said they receive requests from many channels for carriage. “We make those requests part of our decision making process,” said a spokeswoman for Verizon FiOS.

Said a spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable, “We remain willing to talk with them, or any other programming provider, for carriage of their network.”

    Al Jazeera English Finds an Audience, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/world/middleeast/01jazeera.html






U.S. Scrambles to Size Up ElBaradei


January 31, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — When President Obama unexpectedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, one predecessor was quick to applaud his selection for the award.

“I could not have thought of any other person that is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama,” Mohamed ElBaradei, then the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a videotaped statement. He went on to praise Mr. Obama’s commitment “to restore moral decency” to the lives of people around the world.

But on Sunday, Mr. ElBaradei, now a prominent face of the opposition on the streets of Cairo, was sounding a different tune. “The American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy,” Mr. ElBaradei told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He called the United States’ refusal to openly abandon President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt “a farce.”

Mr. ElBaradei, 68, had a fractious relationship with the Bush administration, one so hostile that Bush officials tried to get him removed from his post at the atomic watchdog agency. But as Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition on the streets of Cairo have increasingly coalesced around Mr. ElBaradei to negotiate on their behalf, the Obama administration is scrambling to figure out whether he is someone with whom the United States can deal.

Since the protests in Egypt erupted, Obama administration officials have been trying to reach Mr. ElBaradei, but they had not made contact as of Monday afternoon, a White House official said. “I think that outreach is ongoing,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

Besides both winning Nobel prizes (Mr. ElBaradei won his Peace Prize in 2005), Mr. Obama and Mr. ElBaradei both opposed the war in Iraq, a position that tainted Mr. ElBaradei’s relations with the Bush administration. Mr. Obama and Mr. ElBaradei spoke by telephone three times in the fall of 2009, as the nuclear agency director was finishing up his term, and the two men met in September 2009 at the United Nations, where Mr. Obama was hosting a nuclear security summit meeting. They talked about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a White House official said.

Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks showed that Mr. ElBaradei was enthusiastic about Mr. Obama in the early months of his presidency. In April 2009, a cable reported, he told the American representative to the I.A.E.A., Gregory L. Schulte, that on a recent tour of Latin America “his message to each government had been to ‘help President Obama succeed.’ ” He praised Mr. Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague on nuclear disarmament, which had echoed some of his own proposals, declaring “with a laugh that he could have written it himself.”

But now, the biggest questions for the Obama administration are Mr. ElBaradei’s views on issues related to Israel, Egypt and the United States. For instance, both the United States and Israel have counted on the Egyptians to enforce their part of the blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

But in an interview last June with the London-based Al Quds Al-Arabi, Mr. ElBaradei called the Gaza blockade “a brand of shame on the forehead of every Arab, every Egyptian and every human being.” He called on his government, and on Israel, to end the blockade, which Israeli and Egyptian officials argue is needed to ensure security.

During an I.A.E.A. board of governors meeting in June 2009, Mr. ElBaradei clashed sharply with Israel’s representative over a Syrian reactor destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in 2007. An American cable from Vienna said that Israel had ignored advice not to criticize Mr. ElBaradei publicly, and he responded in kind, accusing Israel of violating international law.

Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a friend of Mr. ElBaradei, said Monday that Mr. ElBaradei wanted Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel, along with India and Pakistan, is not a signatory.

One senior Obama administration official said that it was not lost on the administration that Mr. ElBaradei’s contentious relations with the Bush administration helped explain why he was now being viewed by some as a credible face of the opposition in Egypt.

“Ironically, the fact that ElBaradei crossed swords with the Bush administration on Iraq and Iran helps him in Egypt, and God forbid we should do anything to make it seem like we like him,” said Philip D. Zelikow, former counselor at the State Department during the Bush years. For all of his tangles with the Bush administration, Mr. ElBaradei, an international bureaucrat well known in diplomatic circles, is someone whom the United States can work with, Mr. Zelikow said.

However, he allowed, “Some people in the administration had a jaundiced view of his work.”

Among them was John Bolton, the former Bush administration United States ambassador to the United Nations, who routinely clashed with Mr. ElBaradei on Iran. “He is a political dilettante who is excessively pro-Iran,” he complained. Even some of Mr. ElBaradei’s staff members chafed a bit when he softened the edges of I.A.E.A. reports, especially on Iran. They believed he was doing everything he could to avoid giving the Bush administration, or Israel, a reason to launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. ElBaradei’s term ended early in Mr. Obama’s tenure, so any real differences over how to handle Iran never came to a head. And when he left, he said over a dinner that he was enormously admiring of Mr. Obama, chiefly because the new president had adopted much of Mr. ElBaradei’s nuclear agenda.

When Mr. ElBaradei returned to Egypt for a visit last February, American diplomats observing his reception thought he had some potential to become an anchor for the political opposition, according to diplomatic cables.

At the same time, American diplomats underscored the limits of his appeal, saying his “broader public support remains unclear” and quoting news reports and members of the ruling party as mocking him as an arrogant outsider.

“Many criticized his intention to ‘impose conditions’ on Egypt from afar and his desire to see the presidency given to him on a ‘silver platter,’ ” a cable said.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

    U.S. Scrambles to Size Up ElBaradei, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/world/middleeast/01elbaradei.html






U.S. Begins Evacuation Flights From Cairo


January 31, 2011
The New York Times


CAIRO — The State Department began a voluntary evacuation of American citizens from Egypt on specially chartered flights to “safe havens” on Monday as unrest continued to roil the country.

Cairo International Airport on Monday was a chaotic scene, overflowing with tourists and Egyptians desperate to get on an outbound commercial flight. Outside Terminal 1 more than 1,000 people — mostly Egyptians — sat on sidewalks and in the airport parking lot, surrounded by luggage.

Tempers boiled over at times as travelers struggled to get seats on the limited number of commercial flights still operating. At one point the airport stopped posting flight times on its departure board, The Associated Press reported, in an attempt to ease tensions. But the move served only to stoke anger over delays and cancellations.

The first American government flight departed Cairo for Larnaca, Cyprus, in the early afternoon with 42 passengers, followed by two flights to Athens with about 177 passengers each, according to Elizabeth O. Colton, a spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Cairo. She said that as many as six more flights were preparing to take off on Monday with more to follow during the week.

“Our goal is to get people to a safe place where they can make their own onward travel arrangements,” the embassy said in a statement on Monday.

Americans taking the government-chartered flights — including dependents of American officials in Egypt, some diplomats and private citizens — would be expected to reimburse the State Department for the cost of travel at a later date; the amount they would be asked to pay has not yet been determined.

Some 90,000 Americans live and work in Egypt, most of them in the major cities that have been shaken by antigovernment protests and looting.

Governments around the world scrambled to put together evacuation plans for their citizens. Austria said it would evacuate hundreds on special flights and would send a small army plane to help; Turkey said it had already brought back more than 1,500 citizens over the last three days; and Japan chartered flights for its citizens stranded at the Cairo airport, Reuters reported.

Even as governments worked to process all the requests for flights, many foreign citizens had already found room on planes chartered by private companies with workers in Egypt. Coca-Cola was among the companies chartering flights, which began over the weekend.

At the American University in the upscale Zamalek district of Cairo, a crowd of young foreign students spent the morning sitting on suitcases or milling about nervously, awaiting word about the start of embassy-organized charter flights out of Egypt.

Gunnar Dancer, 20, of Minneapolis, said he would head to the American Embassy on Tuesday to try to get on a flight. “I feel safe here, and I don’t really want to leave,” Mr. Dancer said. “But it would give me family some peace of mind.”

But his two dormitory roommates — Matthew Layden, 21, of Tampa, Fla., and Dillon Sodaro, 19, of Norwalk, Conn. — said they had decided not to take the embassy up on its offer. “It makes sense for tourists, but not if you live here,” Mr. Layden said.


Liam Stack reported from Cairo, and J. David Goodman from New York.

    U.S. Begins Evacuation Flights From Cairo, NYT, 31.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/world/middleeast/01exodus.html






For Many Fleeing Egypt, a Long Wait


January 30, 2011
The New York Times


CAIRO — Andrea Bosch had been waiting for hours Sunday at Cairo International Airport for a flight to whisk her and her young daughters away from the maelstrom that Egypt’s capital had become.

The planes were ready, but few crews could be assembled to fly them.

“They said it was a combination of people who couldn’t or wouldn’t come in today,” said Ms. Bosch, 45, an administrator of an education project of the United States Agency for International Development. “I can imagine people are home trying to take care of their families.”

The terminals were packed Sunday with crowds of frustrated travelers anxious to flee the country. Some jostled their way to customer service desks, while others sat glumly on top of suitcases or napped in corners and on window sills. At a ground floor gift shop, a line of customers waiting to pay for candy bars and bottles of water stretched out the door. The departures board registered delay after delay.

Terminal 1 was so crowded that more than a thousand people sat outside on the sidewalks and in the parking lot, surrounded by luggage. Most were not foreign visitors, but Egyptians hoping to escape the turmoil at least temporarily.

Salma Khalil, 20, a student at the American University, and her mother, Rasha Khodary, 49, had fled a gated suburb west of Cairo after it was attacked by a gang of looters on Saturday night. “If we go home, I am not sure we will come back,” Ms. Khalil said. Their flight to Syria does not leave until Wednesday, but they decided it was better to sleep at a closed Burger King in the airport for the next three days than to brave the possibility of violence at home.

The American Embassy announced that, starting Monday, it was organizing chartered flights to evacuate its citizens “to safe-haven locations” in Europe. It urged Americans in Egypt to “consider leaving as soon as they can safely do so.”

An estimated 90,000 Americans live and work in Egypt, most in cities now roiled by antigovernment protests, looting and a military presence that includes tanks and helicopters. By some estimates, 100 people have been killed during the six days of demonstrations.

Hundreds of expatriates and tourists were stranded in their homes, hotels or at the airport. Mirianna Gaitani, 30, a photographer from Crete who is vacationing in Egypt, said her hotel, the Atel Concorde, had earlier prohibited her and her three friends from leaving because of the tumult on the streets.

Ms. Bosch was booked on Egypt Air with her daughters, Maya, 12, and Asia, 8, and a Yorkshire terrier, Chauncy, to join her husband in Turin, Italy. Although some “random planes” were flying, she said, some passengers had been waiting for 48 hours.

“People are just wandering back and forth, and they’re running out of food,” she said. “People are serving pizza, but the lines are really long.”

Randi Danforth, 56, an editor for American University in Cairo Press, has been reluctant to leave, partly because of her cat, Stella, but she booked a flight leaving Wednesday. Until then, she remains in Maadi, a comparatively wealthy suburb south of Cairo where many foreigners and well-off Egyptians live.

“I have been calm and reasonable about everything, but uncertain of what is going to happen long term,” she said. “There have been no demonstrations in Maadi, but what people are concerned about are opportunists and thugs. There are rumors going around of home invasions and looting. In fact, we have seen little of that ourselves.”

Ms. Danforth said tanks were positioned on key roads and that security guards were patrolling her apartment building. The 60 or so residents have been gathering in the garden to trade information. Some neighbors have armed themselves with baseball bats and golf clubs.

At the airport, Patty Axelsen, 37, another American resident of Maadi, stared sadly at the floor, a small dog in a pet carrier on her lap. Nearby, her husband worked the phone trying to book a flight out.

“We love it here, and it was a very hard decision to leave,” she said.

But as the police vanished from the streets of Cairo on Friday and looters appeared, the city began to feel unfamiliar and frightening, Ms. Axelsen said. She and her daughter Jessica, 16, awoke to a neighborhood transformed, with small fires burning in a street covered with rubble and stones.

“Our building porter and some other guys were guarding our building with sticks and clubs,” Ms. Axelsen said. “These are just regular guys.”

Tourists were also anxious to get out. Helen McBride, 21, a British backpacker, stood in line at the currency exchange counter with her companion, Neil Brodingan, 31, waiting to turn in her Egyptian pounds before leaving town four weeks ahead of schedule.

“Things were great until a few days ago when the protests started,” Mr. Brodingan said. “Then we were confined to our hotel room.”

From their hotel in Talaat Harb Square, they could hear gunfire and see gangs of young men armed with clubs and pipes — some looters, others local youths protecting the neighborhood.

“You couldn’t tell who was good and who was bad,” Ms. McBride said. “And they were not just holding the chains, they were really ready to use them. It was freaky.”

Liam Stack reported from Cairo and Joseph Berger from New York.

    For Many Fleeing Egypt, a Long Wait, NYT, 30.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/world/middleeast/31airport.html






Unrest in Egypt Unsettles Global Markets


January 30, 2011
The New York Times


On Wall Street, it is what is known as an exogenous event — a sudden political or economic jolt that cannot be predicted or modeled but sends shockwaves rippling through global markets.

Investors have largely shrugged off several of these unexpected developments recently, including the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, but the situation in Egypt has the potential to cause more widespread uncertainty, especially if oil and other commodities keep surging or the unrest spreads to more countries in the Middle East.

While Egypt’s banks and stock market were closed because of the protests there, other Middle Eastern markets declined in trading Sunday, with shares falling by 4.3 percent in Dubai, 3.7 percent in Abu Dhabi and 2.9 percent in Qatar.

By early Monday morning, Asian markets were also trending lower, with Japan’s Nikkei index falling 1.5 percent, while in South Korea, the Kospi index slid 1.4 percent.

Last week, the Dow Jones industrial average nearly surpassed the closely watched 12,000 level, but fell 166 points in late trading Friday as the protests in Egypt intensified and oil prices jumped 3.7 percent to $89.34.

With the United States economy seeming to gain a foothold only recently — government data released Friday showed the economy grew by 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 — a sustained increase in oil prices could choke growth, analysts said. It could also undermine the more general optimism that lifted the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index by 1.5 percent in January, after a 12.8 percent jump in 2010.

“A one-dollar, one-day increase in a barrel of oil takes $12 million out of the U.S. economy,” said Jason S. Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington research group. “If tensions in the Mideast cause oil prices to rise by $5 for even just three months, over $5 billion dollars will leave the U.S. economy. Obviously, this is not a strategy for creating new jobs.”

In early electronic trading on the Nymex oil futures market Sunday night, prices edged higher to $90.23 a barrel.

Until now, the stock market in the United States has defied several outside threats, including the rising risk of food inflation, interest rate increases in China, and sovereign debt troubles in Europe, said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist of Standard & Poor’s Equity Research.

“But as is usually the case, a boxer never gets knocked out by a punch he’s looking for,” he said. “This could be what triggers the decline. Geopolitical events are very, very hard to model.”

Egypt is not an oil exporter, nor is its stock market a regional heavyweight. As the home of the Suez Canal and the nearby Sumed pipeline, however, it is one of a handful of spots classified as World Oil Transit Chokepoints by the Energy Department, and events there can have an outsize impact on global energy prices.

The 141-year-old canal is just 1,000 feet wide at its narrowest, and it cannot handle supertankers, forcing shippers to rely on the pipeline or smaller vessels to move the crude.

Roughly 2.9 millions barrels of oil a day, 2.6 percent of global production, passed through the canal and the pipeline in 2009, the Energy Department said.

As a percentage of world oil demand, that may not sound like much, said William H. Brown III, a former Wall Street energy analyst who consults for hedge funds and financial institutions.

“But prices are determined at the margin and that’s a lot of oil in markets these days,” said Mr. Brown, who estimates global spare production capacity at 2.5 million barrels, the bulk of it in Saudi Arabia.

While prices are set globally, the immediate impact of any interruption would be felt primarily in Europe, which relies heavily on jet fuel, heating oil and other distillates refined in the Middle East and shipped via the canal and pipeline. Israel is also a major importer of Egyptian natural gas under a pact that dates to the 1978 Camp David accords.

Egypt is a major player in the global grain market, importing more wheat than any other country. Some analysts have speculated that Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries might increase grain purchases to placate angry consumers, which could eventually push wheat prices higher.

Given the confrontations with authorities in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, many analysts expect oil prices, and global markets, to remain volatile in the coming days, even as the opposition in Egypt rallies around Mohamed ElBaradei.

“I would expect regional markets to remain very unsettled because we don’t look any closer to a political resolution than we did on Friday,” said Ann Wyman, head of emerging markets research in Europe for Nomura. “Instability in the Middle East makes global markets uncomfortable. We’ve entered a new and unpredictable phase of transitioning governments in the Middle East.”

Still, a few investors are looking for opportunities in the Middle East and Egypt itself despite the declines there and the expected instability. Egyptian stocks are inexpensive compared with shares in other markets, said David Marcus, chief investment officer of Evermore Global Advisors. “This is one of the oldest economies on earth.”

“We have to start doing our homework,” he added, noting that another troubled Mediterranean bourse, in Athens, has rallied sharply this year, after Greece’s near-default in 2010. “Egypt is pulling down the region because people panic and don’t ask questions. That makes us much more interested.”

    Unrest in Egypt Unsettles Global Markets, NYT, 30.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/business/global/31markets.html






Israel Shaken as Turbulence Rocks an Ally


January 30, 2011
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — The street revolt in Egypt has thrown the Israeli government and military into turmoil, with top officials closeted in round-the-clock strategy sessions aimed at rethinking their most significant regional relationship.

Israel’s military planning relies on peace with Egypt; nearly half the natural gas it uses is imported from Egypt; and the principle of trading conquered land for diplomatic ties began with its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt more than with any other foreign leader, except President Obama. If Mr. Mubarak were driven from power, the effect on Israel could be profound.

“For the United States, Egypt is the keystone of its Middle East policy,” a senior official said. “For Israel, it’s the whole arch.”

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because Mr. Netanyahu has ordered his ministers and their officials to stay publicly silent on Egypt while events there play out.

Many analysts here said that even if Mr. Mubarak were forced to leave office, those who replaced him could maintain Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, since it is the basis for more than $1 billion in annual aid to Cairo from Washington and much foreign investment.

But others noted that the best-organized political force in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, the Palestinian rulers in Gaza whose weapons-smuggling the Egyptian government works to block.

As the government evacuated the families of envoys from Egypt over the weekend, public affairs broadcasts and newspapers in Israel focused on the unfolding events there. Most of the predictions were dire. Two of three newspapers with the largest circulations, Yediot Aharonot and Maariv, had identical front-page headlines: “A New Middle East.”

It was an ironic reference to the phrase used frequently in the 1990s by President Shimon Peres and other advocates of coexistence who argued that if Israel made peace with its neighbors, a more prosperous and enlightened region would bloom. Events of the past five years — the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s influence in Iraq and the shift by Turkey toward Iran and Syria — have turned many Israelis rightward, fearing that the more time passes the more the region is against them.

Israelis worry that Jordan is in a precarious state and a successful overthrow in Egypt could spread there. And if the Muslim Brotherhood were to gain power in Egypt, that would probably mean not only a stronger Islamist force in Gaza but also in the West Bank, currently run by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, as well as in Jordan, meaning Israel would feel surrounded in a way it has not in decades.

If Egypt also turned unfriendly, that would quite likely stop in its tracks any further Israeli talk of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, officials and analysts said. A peace treaty with the West Bank would involve yielding territory and military control to a relatively weak Palestinian Authority. Trading land for peace with autocrats like Mr. Mubarak, some analysts say, is not a sound basis for enduring treaties.

There has long been concern that popular sentiment in Egypt is anti-Israel. Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, wrote in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, “The only people in Egypt who are committed to peace are the people in Mubarak’s inner circle, and if the next president is not one of them, we are going to be in trouble.”

Mr. Mubarak has just named Omar Suleiman, his right-hand man and the country’s intelligence chief, as his vice president; Israelis would be reassured if he were to inherit power. Other establishment figures, while less friendly to Israel, would most likely maintain some kind of continuity. But Israelis feared that nothing was certain.

They noted that if Mr. Mubarak were to go, Mr. Netanyahu could be left without an ally in the region. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has been highly critical of Israel since the Gaza war two years ago and even more so after Israeli commandos killed nine Turks aboard a flotilla trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza last May. King Abdullah II of Jordan, while honoring his country’s peaceful relations with Israel, has been critical of Mr. Netanyahu since he took office two years ago and has declined to meet with him as well.

For the military here, a serious change in Egypt means a strategic shift in planning. Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser and a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said even if Egypt did not cancel its peace treaty with Israel tomorrow or in five years, a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood would mean “you can’t exclude the possibility of a war with Egypt.”

“During the last 30 years,” he said, “when we had any military confrontation, whether in the first or second Lebanon wars, the intifadas, in all those events we could be confident that Egypt would not try to intervene militarily.”

Dan Schueftan, director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, said thanks to its treaty with Egypt, Israel had reduced its defense expenditure from 23 percent of its gross national product in the 1970s to 9 percent today and made serious cuts in its army. The relationship with Egypt also allowed Israel to withdraw from Gaza in 2005, since Egypt covered Gaza from the south.

Despite Mr. Mubarak’s supportive relations with Israel, many Israelis on both the left and right are sympathetic to the Egyptians’ desire to rid themselves of his autocracy and build a democracy. But they fear what will follow if things move too quickly.

“We know this has to do with the desire for freedom, prosperity and opportunity, and we support people who don’t want to live under tyranny, but who will take advantage of what is happening in its wake?” a top official said. “The prevailing sense here is that you need a certain stability followed by reform. Snap elections are likely to bring a very different outcome.”

Israeli analysts also noted that Egypt had worked hard to oppose Iranian ambitions, and the loss of Egypt as a counterweight would have consequences.

Mr. Schueftan of the University of Haifa made this point, saying, “If this cornerstone is removed or even in doubt, the overall picture for Israel changes and the threats become much more realistic than before.”

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

    Israel Shaken as Turbulence Rocks an Ally, NYT, 30.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/world/middleeast/31israel.html






The Devil We Know


January 30, 2011
The New York Times


As the world ponders the fate of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak, Americans should ponder this: It’s quite possible that if Mubarak had not ruled Egypt as a dictator for the last 30 years, the World Trade Center would still be standing.

This is true even though Mubarak’s regime has been a steadfast U.S. ally, a partner in our counterterrorism efforts and a foe of Islamic radicalism. Or, more aptly, it’s true because his regime has been all of these things.

In “The Looming Tower,” his history of Al Qaeda, Lawrence Wright raises the possibility that “America’s tragedy on September 11 was born in the prisons of Egypt.” By visiting imprisonment, torture and exile upon Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak foreclosed any possibility of an Islamic revolution in his own country. But he also helped radicalize and internationalize his country’s Islamists, pushing men like Ayman Al-Zawahiri — Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, and arguably the real brains behind Al Qaeda — out of Egyptian politics and into the global jihad.

At the same time, Mubarak’s relationship with Washington has offered constant vindication for the jihadi worldview. Under his rule, Egypt received more American dollars than any country besides Israel. For many young Egyptians, restless amid political and economic stagnation, it’s been a short leap from hating their dictator to hating his patrons in the United States. One of the men who made this leap was an architecture student named Mohamed Atta, who was at the cockpit when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center.

These sound like good reasons to welcome Mubarak’s potential overthrow, and the end to America’s decades-long entanglement with his drab, repressive regime. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern politics is never quite that easy. The United States supported Mubarak for so long because of two interrelated fears: the fear of another Khomeini and the fear of another Nasser. Both anxieties remain entirely legitimate today.

The first fear everyone understands, because we’re still living with the religious tyranny that Ayatollah Khomeini established in Iran in 1979, in the wake of a spontaneous revolution not unlike the one currently sweeping Cairo and Alexandria.

The second fear is less immediately resonant, because Gamal Abdel Nasser is now 40 years in the grave. But the last time a popular revolution in the land of the pharaohs overthrew a corrupt regime, the year was 1952, Nasser was the beneficiary — and Washington lived to rue the day he came to power.

Nasser was not an Islamist: he was a secular pan-Arabist socialist, which in the 1950s seemed to put him on history’s cutting edge. But under his influence, Egypt became an aggressively destabilizing force in Middle Eastern politics. His dream of a unified Arab world helped inspire convulsions and coups from Lebanon to Iraq. He fought two wars with Israel, and intervened disastrously in Yemen. His army was accused of using poison gas in that conflict, a grim foreshadowing of Saddam Hussein’s domestic tactics. And his pursuit of ballistic missiles was a kind of dress rehearsal for today’s Iranian nuclear brinkmanship — complete with a covert Israeli campaign to undermine his weapons programs.

The memory of Nasser is a reminder that even if post-Mubarak Egypt doesn’t descend into religious dictatorship, it’s still likely to lurch in a more anti-American direction. The long-term consequences of a more populist and nationalistic Egypt might be better for the United States than the stasis of the Mubarak era, and the terrorism that it helped inspire. But then again they might be worse. There are devils behind every door.

Americans don’t like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.

The only comfort, as we watch Egyptians struggle for their country’s future, is that some choices aren’t America’s to make.

    The Devil We Know, NYT, 30.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/opinion/31douthat.html






Spotlight Again Falls on Web Tools and Change


January 29, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Fear is the dictator’s traditional tool for keeping the people in check. But by cutting off Egypt’s Internet and wireless service late last week in the face of huge street protests, President Hosni Mubarak betrayed his own fear — that Facebook, Twitter, laptops and smartphones could empower his opponents, expose his weakness to the world and topple his regime.

There was reason for Mr. Mubarak to be shaken. By many accounts, the new arsenal of social networking helped accelerate Tunisia’s revolution, driving the country’s ruler of 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, into ignominious exile and igniting a conflagration that has spread across the Arab world at breathtaking speed. It was an apt symbol that a dissident blogger with thousands of followers on Twitter, Slim Amamou, was catapulted in a matter of days from the interrogation chambers of Mr. Ben Ali’s regime to a new government post as minister for youth and sports. It was a marker of the uncertainty in Tunis that he had stepped down from the government by Thursday.

Tunisia’s uprising offers the latest encouragement for a comforting notion: that the same Web tools that so many Americans use to keep up with college pals and post passing thoughts have a more noble role as well, as a scourge of despotism. It was just 18 months ago, after all, that the same technologies were hailed as a factor in Iran’s Green Revolution, the stirring street protests that followed the disputed presidential election.

But since that revolt collapsed, Iran has become a cautionary tale. The Iranian police eagerly followed the electronic trails left by activists, which assisted them in making thousands of arrests in the crackdown that followed. The government even crowd-sourced its hunt for enemies, posting on the Web the photos of unidentified demonstrators and inviting Iranians to identify them.

“The Iranian government has become much more adept at using the Internet to go after activists,” said Faraz Sanei, who tracks Iran at Human Rights Watch. The Revolutionary Guard, the powerful political and economic force that protects the ayatollahs’ regime, has created an online surveillance center and is believed to be behind a “cyberarmy” of hackers that it can unleash against opponents, he said.

Repressive regimes around the world may have fallen behind their opponents in recent years in exploiting new technologies — not unexpected when aging autocrats face younger, more tech-savvy opponents. But in Minsk and Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, governments have begun to climb the steep learning curve and turn the new Internet tools to their own, antidemocratic purposes.

The countertrend has sparked a debate over whether the conventional wisdom that the Internet and social networking inherently tip the balance of power in favor of democracy is mistaken. A new book, “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” by a young Belarus-born American scholar, Evgeny Morozov, has made the case most provocatively, describing instance after instance of strongmen finding ways to use new media to their advantage.

After all, the very factors that have brought Facebook and similar sites such commercial success have huge appeal for a secret police force. A dissident’s social networking and Twitter feed is a handy guide to his political views, his career, his personal habits and his network of like-thinking allies, friends and family. A cybersurfing policeman can compile a dossier on a regime opponent without the trouble of the street surveillance and telephone tapping required in a pre-Net world.

If Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt has resorted to the traditional blunt instrument against dissent in a crisis — cutting off communications altogether — other countries have shown greater sophistication. In Belarus, officers of the K.G.B. — the secret police agency has preserved its Soviet-era name — now routinely quote activists’ comments on Facebook and other sites during interrogations, said Alexander Lukashuk, director of the Belarus service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Last month, he said, investigators appearing at the apartment of a Belarusian photojournalist mocked her by declaring that since she had written online that they usually conducted their searches at night, they had decided to come in the morning.

In Syria, “Facebook is a great database for the government now,” said Ahed al-Hindi, a Syrian activist who was arrested at an Internet cafe in Damascus in 2006 and left his country after being released from jail. Mr. Hindi, now with the United States-based group CyberDissidents.org, said he believes that Facebook is doing more good than harm, helping activists form virtual organizations that could never survive if they met face to face. But users must be aware that they are speaking to their oppressors as well as their friends, he said.

Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, said the popular networking services, like most technologies, are politically neutral.

“There’s nothing deterministic about these tools — Gutenberg’s press, or fax machines or Facebook,” Ms. Brown said. “They can be used to promote human rights or to undermine human rights.”

This is the point of Mr. Morozov, 26, a visiting scholar at Stanford. In “The Net Delusion,” he presents an answer to the “cyberutopians” who assume that the Internet inevitably fuels democracy. He coined the term “spinternet” to capture the spin applied to the Web by governments that are beginning to master it.

In China, Mr. Morozov said, thousands of commentators are trained and paid — hence their nickname, the 50-Cent Party — to post pro-government comments on the Web and steer online opinion away from criticism of the Communist Party. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez, after first denouncing hostile Twitter comments as “terrorism,” created his own Twitter feed — an entertaining mix of politics and self-promotion that now has 1.2 million followers.

In Russia, Mr. Morozov noted, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin has managed to co-opt several prominent new-media entrepreneurs, including Konstantin Rykov, whose many Web sites now skew strongly pro-Putin and whose anti-Georgia documentary about the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 went viral on the Web.

Mr. Morozov acknowledges that social networking “definitely helps protesters to mobilize.”

“But is it making protest more likely? I don’t think so.”

In Egypt, it appears, at least some activists share Mr. Morozov’s wariness about the double-edged nature of new media. An anonymous 26-page leaflet that appeared in Cairo with practical advice for demonstrators last week, The Guardian reported, instructed activists to pass it on by e-mail and photocopy — but not by Facebook and Twitter, because they were being monitored by the government.

Then Mr. Mubarak’s government, evidently concluding that it was too late for mere monitoring, unplugged his country from the Internet altogether. It was a desperate move from an autocrat who had not learned to harness the tools his opponents have embraced.

Scott Shane, a reporter in The Times’s Washington bureau, is the author of “Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union.”

    Spotlight Again Falls on Web Tools and Change, NYT, 29.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/weekinreview/30shane.html






For Americans Stranded in Egypt, No Quick Exits


January 29, 2011
The New York Times


Sharon Romey, who lives on a ranch in South Dakota, cannot help but worry about her son, Kade Klippenstein, a college freshman, who is stuck in Cairo. But even as images of violent protests flash across the television screen, she said, she felt that he was safe and that he was getting an extraordinary history lesson.

“Of course it’s worrisome, to have your child away,” she said by telephone on Saturday. “But what an experience, to watch people do what they’re doing for their freedom. It’s a huge education in something that we take for granted.”

Mr. Klippenstein is one of 71 members of the band at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., who were touring Egypt when demonstrations erupted last week against President Hosni Mubarak, causing flights in and out of the country to be delayed or canceled.

Most of the Augustana students are now scheduled to leave by Tuesday. Mr. Klippenstein’s trip will take him through Amsterdam, Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, which itself is six hours from his family’s cattle ranch.

The band members are among thousands trapped in hotels, in their homes or at the Cairo International Airport. The airport was a chaotic scene on Saturday, with at least 2,000 passengers scrambling to leave. Adding to the confusion was the lack of Internet access and cellphone service, both cut off by the government, although cellphone use was later restored.

One British flight to Cairo from England had to return to Heathrow Airport in London because it could not land in time to allow passengers to travel outside the Cairo airport before the government-imposed curfew was to begin.

The unrest was expected to deliver a serious blow to Egypt’s tourism industry. The United States State Department has urged Americans to “defer nonessential travel” to Egypt, and it advised those already there to “defer nonessential movement and to exercise caution.” The State Department also instructed Americans in Cairo to stay inside and “not attempt to come to the U.S. Embassy” if demonstrations were taking place.

Regina Fraser, co-host of the “Grannies on Safari” show on PBS, told The Associated Press from Luxor, Egypt, that she planned to contact the embassy because she did not know how else to get out. “We do want people to know, ‘Hey, we’re Americans, we need to get home,’ ” she said. “Who wants to be around gunfire and also tear gases? It’s pretty scary.”

Countries including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan were organizing flights to evacuate their citizens.

El Al, the Israeli national airline, whisked about 200 tourists and diplomats’ relatives out of Egypt on an emergency flight, The Associated Press reported. El Al does not usually fly on the Jewish Sabbath out of respect for observant Jewish passengers.

About 90,000 Americans live and work in Egypt. There have been no reports so far of plans to evacuate them, though some American companies were ordering workers’ families to leave.

Nathaniel Bowditch, 44, an assistant professor of philosophy and an associate dean at the American University in Cairo, has barricaded his family inside the apartment where they have lived for almost five years.

He and his wife, Eden, have three children, but one of them, a 12-year-old daughter, is in Abu Dhabi. The family was going to try reunite in Rome as early as Sunday, he said by telephone.

For now, they are living an oddly conflicted existence, he said. Even though they are “hunkered down,” he said, his chief concern was not their safety but the lack of information and the uncertainty over how long the siege would continue.

“No one is feeling panicked in terms of day-to-day necessities,” he said. “The concern is more structural. How will this work? What will happen? What should I do with my kids? We won’t starve or freeze, but am I going to have a job? Will my kids’ school open in a week?”

Not having Internet access and, for a time, not having cellphone service, he said, was “profoundly unnerving and isolating.”

At her ranch in South Dakota, Ms. Romey — whose story was first reported by The Rapid City Journal in South Dakota — said she too was surprised that the Egyptian authorities had shut off access to the Internet.

“I didn’t know anyone could just do that,” she said. Even though she lives in a remote part of the state, and cell reception is not always reliable, she has been able to communicate with her son using Skype.

    For Americans Stranded in Egypt, No Quick Exits, NYT, 29.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/world/middleeast/30travel.html






Obama Presses for Change but Not a New Face at the Top


January 29, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s decision to stop short, at least for now, of calling for Hosni Mubarak’s resignation was driven by the administration’s concern that it could lose all leverage over the Egyptian president, and because it feared creating a power vacuum inside the country, according to administration officials involved in the debate.

In recounting Saturday’s deliberations, they said Mr. Obama was acutely conscious of avoiding any perception that the United States was once again quietly engineering the ouster of a major Middle East leader.

But after the president and his advisers met early Saturday afternoon in the Situation Room, Mr. Obama, through a description of the session issued by the National Security Council, once again urged Mr. Mubarak to refrain from violence against the protesters and to support “concrete steps” that advanced political reform within Egypt. He did not define what those steps should be or whether the White House believed they could take place while Mr. Mubarak was in office.

According to senior administration officials at the meeting, Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. “He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events,” said a senior administration official, who like others, would not speak for attribution because of the delicacy of the discussions.

The administration’s restraint is also driven by the fact that, for the United States, dealing with an Egypt without Mr. Mubarak would be difficult at best, and downright scary at worst. For 30 years, his government has been a pillar of American foreign policy in a volatile region, not least because of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. American officials fear that a new government — particularly one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups — may not honor the treaty signed in 1979 by Mr. Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat.

Mr. Sadat was assassinated two years later, paving the way for Mr. Mubarak. “Clearly Mubarak’s time has run out,” said one of Mr. Obama’s advisers. “But whether that means he allows a real political process to develop, with many voices, or whether he steps out of the way — that’s something the Egyptians need to decide. We don’t get a vote.”

This is hardly the first time that Washington has faced the crisis of how to deal with an uprising against a hard-line, dictatorial or corrupt ally. Some officials have compared what is unfolding in Egypt with the uprisings more that three decades ago that led to the ouster of Iran’s shah, and the protests in the Philippines that brought down Ferdinand Marcos.

In Iran, Washington gambled on the emergence of a government that it could work with, and lost — a process that one member of the Obama cabinet, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, was deeply involved in as a young aide in the Carter administration. In the Philippines, the result was a messy democracy.

In the past, Mr. Mubarak has thrown the example of Iran in the face of American officials — perhaps as a warning not to press him too hard. In 2009, just before Mr. Mubarak came to Washington, the American ambassador to Cairo at the time, Margaret Scobey, noted in a cable to the State Department, “We have heard him lament the results of earlier U.S. efforts to encourage reform in the Islamic world.”

“Wherever he has seen these U.S. efforts, he can point to the chaos and loss of stability that ensued,” said the cable, one of a trove collected by WikiLeaks. “In addition to Iraq, he also reminds us that he warned against Palestinian elections in 2006 that brought Hamas (Iran) to his doorstep.”

Obama administration officials would like to see a moderate and secular government emerge from the ashes of the Egyptian crisis. But in large part because Mr. Mubarak stifled so much political debate and marginalized any opposition, there is no middle ground in Egypt’s politics, no credible secular party that grew up in opposition to Mr. Mubarak’s government. Instead, there is the army, which has long supported Mr. Mubarak’s government, and on the other end of the spectrum, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

That means that if free elections were held today, Egyptians would have to choose between two extremes, neither of which is attractive to the United States.

“We should not press for early elections,” Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser to President Bush, said in an interview. “We should give the Egyptian people time to develop non-Islamic parties. The point is to gain time so that civil societies can develop, so when they have an election, they can have real choices.”

Mr. Hadley said that given the choice, Egyptians might well settle on a hybrid government that might include the Muslim Brotherhood and a secular majority willing to continue to live by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Some officials have clearly begun to think about the many possibilities that could emerge should Mr. Mubarak depart from the presidential palace, including a government led by his newly installed vice president, Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief. American officials say that Mr. Suleiman has been described as more opposed to wide-ranging reforms than Mr. Mubarak. “Shifting the chairs for longtime supporters of Mubarak is not the kind of ‘concrete reform’ that the president is talking about,” one senior official said.

Another possibility, American officials say, would be a transitional government led by an outsider, perhaps Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who flew back to Cairo several days ago.

Mr. ElBaradei, who has not lived in Egypt for years, has little connection to the protesters. A frequent critic of United States policy, he could form a caretaker government in preparation for an election. As one American official said, “He’s shown an independence from us that will squelch any argument that he’s doing our bidding.”

Mark Landler contributed reporting.

    Obama Presses for Change but Not a New Face at the Top, NYT, 29.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/world/middleeast/30diplo.html






Urging Restraint, U.S. Military Faces Test of Influence


January 29, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The officer corps of Egypt’s powerful military has been educated at defense colleges in the United States for 30 years. The Egyptian armed forces have about 1,000 American M1A1 Abrams tanks, which the United States allows to be built on Egyptian soil. Egypt permits the American military to stage major operations from its bases, and has always guaranteed the Americans passage through the Suez Canal.

The relationship between the Egyptian and American militaries is, in fact, so close that it was no surprise on Friday to find two dozen senior Egyptian military officials at the Pentagon, halfway through an annual week of meetings, lunches and dinners with their American counterparts.

By the afternoon, the Egyptians had cut short the talks to return to Cairo, but not before a top American Defense Department official, Alexander Vershbow, had urged them to exercise “restraint,” the Pentagon said.

It remained unclear on Saturday, as the Egyptian Army was deployed on the streets of Cairo for the first time in decades, to what degree the military would remain loyal to the embattled president, Hosni Mubarak.

But among the many fears of the United States was the possibility that, despite the army’s seemingly passive stance on Saturday, the Egyptian armed forces would begin firing on the protesters — an action that would probably be seen as leading to an end to the army’s legitimacy.

“If they shoot on the crowd, they could win tomorrow, and then there will be a revolt that will sweep them away,” said Bruce O. Riedel, an expert on the Middle East and Asia at the Brookings Institution, who predicts that in any event, Mr. Mubarak will step down.

A possible successor — and a sign of how closely the military is intertwined with the ruling party — is Omar Suleiman, head of military intelligence, who state media said had been sworn in as the new vice president.

Mr. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official who led the 2009 White House review of United States strategy in Afghanistan, said that the Egyptian military would be a critical player in any negotiated settlement to remove Mr. Mubarak from power.

At the Pentagon on Saturday morning, American military officials said that the Egyptian Army was acting professionally and that they had no indications that it had swung over all to the side of the uprising. At the same time, the officials noted, the army has not cracked down on the protests.

“They certainly haven’t inflicted any harm on protesters,” said Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “They’re focused mainly on protecting the institutions of government, as they should be.”

United States military officials said there was no formal line of communication between the Joint Chiefs and the Egyptian military, although they said there might be conversations if the crisis deepens. Admiral Mullen had been scheduled to meet on Monday in Washington with Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, who is both the Egyptian defense chief and the chief of staff of the Egyptian Army. But General Enan was the leader of the delegation of senior Egyptian officials at the Pentagon and had left abruptly for Cairo on Friday night.

The question now is how much influence the United States has on the Egyptian military and exactly what, given the chaos on the streets of Cairo, it would like the Egyptian armed forces to do other than exercise restraint.

“Are relations good enough for us to raise questions about excessive repression?” said Anthony H. Cordesman, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Yes. Is it a force that will listen to us if there is a military takeover and we want them to move to a democratically elected government as soon as possible? They will listen. But this is a very proud group of people. The fact that they will listen doesn’t mean we can in any way leverage them.”

American military officials said on Friday that they had had no formal discussions with their Egyptian counterparts at the Pentagon about how to handle the uprising. “No guidance was given,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “In other words, we didn’t say anything to them about how they should handle it, and they didn’t tell us about how they were going to handle it.”

But, General Cartwright said, “hallway” discussions did take place with the Egyptian military about the protests, and American military officials said contingency plans had been made should American Embassy in Cairo have to be evacuated.

Unlike the feared Egyptian police forces, which had mostly withdrawn from central Cairo on Saturday, the army is considered professional, not repressive and a stable force in the country’s politics. Egyptian men all serve in the army, which for the most part enjoys popular support.

But the military is also loyal to Mr. Mubarak, who led the air force before becoming president. The three other presidents who served since the 1952 military coup that overthrew the monarchy have also been generals.

“The Egyptian military is the regime, and the regime is the Egyptian military,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “Mubarak’s successor is likely to either be his son, someone else from the military or someone blessed by the military.”

Since 1978, the United States has given Egypt $35 billion in military aid, making it the largest recipient of conventional American military and economic aid after Israel.

Egypt now receives about $1.5 billion in United States aid annually; the Obama administration warned Mr. Mubarak on Friday that it would review that aid.

Most recently, Egypt bought 24 F-16 fighter jets from the United States as well as a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery.

    Urging Restraint, U.S. Military Faces Test of Influence, NYT, 29.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/world/middleeast/30military.html






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, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/weekinreview/30cooper.html






Israel Silent Over Egypt Protests


January 29, 2011
Filed at 5:03 a.m. EST
The New York Times


JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister ordered government spokesmen to keep silent Saturday on anti-government protests in neighboring Egypt. Security officials nonetheless expressed concern the violence could threaten ties with its important ally and spread to the Palestinian Authority.

Two Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered all government spokesmen not to comment on the mass riots in Egypt, where protesters are demanding President Hosni Mubarak resign after nearly 30 years in power. Both officials were speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There is a great concern about what is happening in Egypt," one senior diplomatic official said. "We are following very closely the events and are analyzing them as they occur."

The officials said they expect Mubarak to survive the unrest but that it could damage ties with Israel if the country's popular opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, makes gains.

Egypt was the first Arab country to reach peace with Israel three decades ago. It remains one of Israel's most important allies by acting as a bridge to the wider Arab world.

It is experiencing the fiercest anti-government protests in years, threatening to destabilize Mubarak's regime.

The Israeli security officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were worried that violence might spread to Gaza, the West Bank, and possibly to its other ally in the Arab world, Jordan.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control in bloody street battles from the rival Palestinian Fatah party in 2007. Israeli security officials on Saturday said they are worried Gaza militants might take advantage of the chaos and breach the border with Gaza.

The Egyptian protesters are raging over the government's neglect of poverty, unemployment and rising prices.

Mubarak took power in the wake of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who reached peace with Israel. Mubarak has preserved that agreement, turning himself into a force of moderation and Western bulwark in a region where Islamic radicals have gained increasing strength.

Eli Shaked, a former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt to Channel 10 TV Saturday that if Mubarak's reign is destabilized, radical Egyptian Islamists could fill the void.

"It's good that Israel is keeping quiet, but there is no doubt that what is happening in Egypt is not good for Israeli interests," Shaked said. "It will only be a matter of time before a leader of the revolution arises and he will come from the Muslim Brotherhood, they are the ones that will take advantage of the situation," Shaked said.

Palestinian officials in the West Bank and Gaza refused to comment.

    Israel Silent Over Egypt Protests, NYT, 29.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/01/29/world/middleeast/AP-ML-Israel-Egypt.html






Washington and Mr. Mubarak


January 28, 2011
The New York Times


Both President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, in power for three decades, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, in power for 23 years, should have seen this coming. They didn’t — or didn’t care. Both countries share similar pressures: huge numbers of young people without jobs, growing outrage over abusive security forces, corrupt leaders, repressive political systems.

Their people are right to demand more from their governments. The status quo is unsustainable and the result, perhaps inevitable, has been an explosion of protests and rioting in the streets of both countries.

Egypt, with Mr. Mubarak in charge, is an American ally and a recipient of nearly $1.5 billion in aid annually. It is the biggest country in the Arab world and was the first to make peace with Israel. Yemen is home to a dangerous Al Qaeda affiliate and has given the United States pretty much free rein to go after the extremists.

All of which leaves Washington in a quandary, trying to balance national security concerns and its moral responsibility to stand with those who have the courage to oppose authoritarian rulers. American officials must already be wondering what will happen to the fight against Al Qaeda if Mr. Saleh is deposed. And what will happen to efforts to counter Iran and promote Arab-Israeli peace if Mr. Mubarak is suddenly gone?

We won’t try to game Yemen’s politics. Even in Egypt, it’s impossible to know who might succeed Mr. Mubarak. He has made sure that there is no loyal opposition and little in the way of democratic institutions.

In the past, Washington has often pulled its punches on human rights and democracy to protect unholy security alliances with dictators, like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. There came a time when it was obvious that the Marcos tie was damaging American security interests and President Ronald Reagan — along with a people power revolution — played a role in easing him peacefully out of power.

Whether that point comes with Mr. Mubarak is now up to him. So far, he has shown arrogance and tone-deafness. He has met the spiraling protests with spiraling levels of force and repression. On Friday, in a sign more of weakness than strength, the government shut down Internet access and cellphone service. The protestors were undeterred.

Early Saturday, Mr. Mubarak ordered all of his ministers to resign and said his new government would accelerate reforms. He would be far more persuasive if he lifted the communications blackout, reeled in his security forces, allowed credible candidates to compete for president this year, and ensured a free and fair election.

Cables released by WikiLeaks show that the Obama administration has been privately pushing Mr. Mubarak to wake up, release jailed dissidents and pursue reforms. Unfortunately, those private exhortations did not get very far.

The administration struggled to get its public message right this week. On Thursday, it made clear that while Mr. Mubarak is a valuable ally, it is not taking sides but is trying to work with both the government and the protesters. By Friday, the White House said it was ready to “review” aid to Egypt — after Mr. Mubarak cut most communications, called out the army and effectively put Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition figure and former leader of the International Atomic Energy Agency, under house arrest.

Mr. Obama will have to be willing to actually cut that aid if Mr. Mubarak turns the protests into a bloodbath and fails to open up Egypt’s political system.

    Washington and Mr. Mubarak, NYT, 28.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/opinion/29sat1.html






Obama Cautions Embattled Ally Against Violence


January 28, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday put Egypt’s embattled leader, Hosni Mubarak, on notice that he should not use his soldiers and the police in a bloody crackdown on the protests in Egypt, edging away from a close American ally whose cities have erupted in protest.

Addressing the nation from the White House after a day of rage across Egypt, Mr. Obama said he called Mr. Mubarak and told him “to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and to turn a “moment of volatility” into a “moment of promise.” Declaring that the protesters have universal rights, he said, “The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people.”

Mr. Obama’s brief remarks came as a blunt reply to Mr. Mubarak, who spoke to his own people just one hour before and mixed conciliation with defiance as he dismissed his government but vowed to stay in office to stabilize Egypt.

Faced with images of riot police officers using tear gas and water cannons against protesters, the Obama administration has moved from tentative support to distancing itself from Mr. Mubarak, its staunchest Arab ally, saying it would review $1.5 billion in American aid and warning him that he must confront the grievances of his people.

Mr. Obama noted that in Mr. Mubarak’s speech, he promised to expand democracy and economic opportunity. “He has a responsibility to give meaning to those words,” Mr. Obama said. He called on Mr. Mubarak to open a dialogue with the demonstrators, though he did not go as far as to urge free and fair elections.

Illustrating the delicate balance that the administration faces with Egypt, Mr. Obama referred to the joint projects of the two countries. He also urged the demonstrators to “express themselves peacefully.”

But the firmness of the president’s comments signaled that the crisis in Egypt had passed a “critical turning point,” in the words of one senior American official. Regardless of whether Mr. Mubarak survives, this official said, the upheaval has already transformed Egyptian politics and how the United States will handle a leader long seen as a stable anchor in a turbulent region.

The announcement that the administration would review its aid was the first tangible sign that the United States was keeping Mr. Mubarak at arm’s length. The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, declined to give details about the review, except to say that the American “assistance posture” would depend on events “now, and in the coming days.”

Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of American foreign aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, and just ahead of Iraq. It is a critical partner on issues like the Israel-Palestinian peace process and a bulwark against Islamic extremism in the Arab world. The administration has also relied on Egypt to give an Arab stamp of approval to Iraq’s fledgling government.

The mushrooming protests confront the administration with one of the most nettlesome foreign policy dilemmas it has faced, forcing it to abandon the careful balance that Mr. Obama and his predecessors have struck between supporting the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people while reaffirming ties with Mr. Mubarak. This same calculation has governed American dealings with other Arab allies led by entrenched autocratic rulers, notably Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

In each case, the overriding concern is that the same people who are clamoring for change could choose leaders who are hostile to the United States, or are even extremists.

Still, standing by Mr. Mubarak for fear of what could come after him could lead to “resentment towards the United States that could last another three decades, like Iran,” said Martin S. Indyk, a Middle East peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. Laying out the American dilemma, Mr. Indyk said, “If we don’t back Mubarak and the regime falls, and the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of Egypt and breaks the peace treaty with Israel, then it could have dramatic negative ramifications for American interests in the Middle East.”

The administration also reacted sharply to the Egyptian government’s extraordinary move to shut down the Internet, social networking Web sites, texting and other wireless communications. Mr. Obama called on the government to reverse the steps, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described as “unprecedented.”

American officials tried to call the Egyptian Ministry of Communications for an explanation on Friday, but they were unable to reach anyone on a landline phone, said a senior administration official.

At the White House on Friday afternoon, Mr. Obama dropped in on a meeting of his top national security advisers in the Situation Room. The group included Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mrs. Clinton and Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser. During that session, Mr. Obama decided to call Mr. Mubarak and address the American people.

Also on Friday, the State Department issued a travel alert, warning American citizens to avoid going to Egypt, or if there, to stay in one place.

Officials from the Pentagon were consulting with their Egyptian military counterparts, Mr. Gibbs said. The role of the military, officials said, was most likely to be decisive in the coming days — in particular, if the protests continue and the government orders soldiers to open fire on civilians.

Senior Egyptian military commanders cut short a visit to the Pentagon on Friday and were headed to Cairo as the Egyptian Army was deployed to put down protests in the country’s streets, American military officials said.

The chief of staff of Egypt’s armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, was due to meet this Monday with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and remain with his delegation in Washington through next Wednesday. But as the protests intensified on Friday, he and his group headed for the airport.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden said he did not consider Mr. Mubarak a “dictator” and stopped short of calling him to step down. He said the Egyptian government should respond to demands that are “legitimate,” drawing criticism from those who said he was calling their legitimacy into question.

On Friday evening, Mr. Obama avoided the question of whether Mr. Mubarak needed to go. “Ultimately,” he said, “the future of Egypt will be decided by the Egyptian people.”

Helene Cooper and Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting.

    Obama Cautions Embattled Ally Against Violence, NYT, 28.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/world/middleeast/29diplo.html






Clinton Calls for ‘Restraint’ and ‘Reform’


January 28, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Friday for the Egyptian government to “restrain the security forces” that are confronting street protesters, and said that “reform is absolutely critical to the well-being of Egypt.” Her remarks were the Obama administration’s firmest statement so far on the mushrooming street protests in Egypt.

Reading from a written statement outside her office, moments before the sound of gunfire broke out in the streets of Cairo, Mrs. Clinton said that the Egyptian authorities should not “rush to impose very strict measures that would be violent.” She called on President Hosni Mubarak to open “a dialogue between the government and people of Egypt,” and said that “the deep grievances within Egyptian society” that will not be erased by a crackdown.

With events in Egypt unfolding at a furious pace, Mrs. Clinton’s statement toughened the administration’s line, after two days in which senior officials have struggled to balance their longstanding alliance with Mr. Mubarak with a desire to support the democratic aspirations of his restive people.

Mrs. Clinton said that the future of Egypt was up to the Egyptian people, which seemed to open the door to political change. “There is a constant concern for the need of greater openness, greater participation, particularly on the part of young people,” she said, noting that she had raised this issue two weeks ago in Qatar, where she bluntly warned Arab leaders to reform their societies.

In her statement, Mrs. Clinton reiterated that Egypt was a partner of the United States in strategic and regional issues. But she said, “as a partner, we strongly believe that the Egyptian government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political and social reforms.”

Mrs. Clinton also urged the government “to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications,” referring to its decision — apparently unprecedented — to cut off all Internet services in the country, as well as mobile phone networks in some areas.

She also called on the demonstrators to “refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.”

On Thursday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said he did not consider Mr. Mubarak a dictator, and stopped short of calling on him to step down. He said the Egyptian government should respond to demands that are “legitimate,” bringing criticism from those who said he was calling into question the legitimacy of the broader protests.

Earlier on Thursday, President Obama offered a carefully balanced response in a town-hall interview, saying that Mr. Mubarak was a valued partner, but that he had told Mr. Mubarak of the need for reform.

The White House said the president was closely monitoring the events in Egypt, with a 40-minute briefing on the protests on Friday morning. Earlier, he had requested a memo on Egypt from the national security advisor, Thomas E. Donilon.

    Clinton Calls for ‘Restraint’ and ‘Reform’, NYT, 28.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/world/middleeast/29diplo.html






Egyptians’ Fury Has Raged Beneath the Surface for Decades


January 28, 2011
The New York Times


Events in Tunisia may have inspired the largest street protests ever to challenge President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three decades in power. But the anger fueling those protests is not new. It has been seething beneath the surface for many years, exploding at times, but never before in such widespread, sustained fury.

The grievances are economic, social, historic and deeply personal. Egyptians, like Tunisians, often speak of their dignity, which many said has been wounded by Mr. Mubarak’s monopoly on power, his iron-fisted approach to security, and corruption that has been allowed to fester.

Even government allies and insiders have been quick to acknowledge that the protesters have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed.

“A portion of their demands are recognized as valid,” said Abdel Moneim Said, a member of Mr. Mubarak’s party and chairman of the Al-Ahram publishing house. “There is a problem, we don’t know how to define it or deal with it, but that is something that should happen only through political means.”

The protesters have demanded that Mr. Mubarak step down, that he dissolve parliament and hold free and fair elections, and that there be an end to corruption, demands flowing from years of pent-up frustration, Egyptians said.

“Egyptians are sick and tired of being corrupted and when you live on 300 pounds a month, you have one of two options, you either become a beggar or a thief,” said Ghada Shabandar, a longtime human rights activist. (Three hundred Egyptian pounds is about $51.) “The people sent a message: ‘We are not beggars and we do not want to become thieves.’ ”

All that anger has been focused on Mr. Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly three decades, and had appeared to be positioning his son, Gamal, a businessman and political leader, to inherit power.

“They hate Mubarak,” said Steven Cook, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “It has become this clogged police state. I think what has happened is that Tunisia has created this hope and possibility in people’s minds, that with enough determination you can unseat an Arab dictator.”

Over the years, Egyptians have demonstrated or complained publicly over multiple issues. These include:

Emergency Law

The government has maintained what it calls an Emergency Law, passed first in 1981 to combat terrorism after former President Anwar el-Sadat was assassinated. The law allows police to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court. Last year the government promised that it would only use the law to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, but terrorism was defined so broadly as to render that promise largely meaningless, according to human rights activists and political prisoners.


The Egyptian police have a long and notorious track record of torture and cruelty to average citizens. One case that drew widespread international condemnation involved a cellphone video of the police sodomizing a driver with a broomstick. In June 2010, Alexandria erupted in protests over the fatal beating by police of beating Khaled Said, 28. The authorities said he died choking on a clump of marijuana, until a photograph emerged of his bloodied face. Just last month, a suspect being questioned in connection with a bombing was beaten to death while in police custody.


Nearly every day last year, workers of nearly every sector staged protests, chanting demands outside Parliament during daylight and laying out bedrolls along the pavement at night. The government and its allies have been unable to silence the workers, who are angry about a range of issues, including low salaries. From 2004 to 2008 alone, about 1.7 million workers have engaged in 1,900 strikes and other forms of protest, demanding everything from wage increases to job security in state-owned industries that were privatized.


President Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party has held a monopoly on power for decades, but allowed token opposition to exist in the form of small opposition parties and blocs in parliament. But the parliamentary elections staged last November were widely seen as fixed when Mr. Mubarak’s party claimed to win about 500 of the 518 seats. The president’s party allies insisted the election was free and fair, but the loss of nearly all opposition seats — including independents aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood — closed off the one institutional outlet for challenging the government.

In local council elections in 2008 there were 52,000 open seats. Government decisions to disqualify candidates meant that 43,600 seats were uncontested and awarded to the ruling party. Out of a total of 51,546 seats, the ruling party won 99.13 percent. In midterm elections for one-third of the Shura Council, the upper house of Parliament, held in 2007, the first elections to be held after the constitutional amendments removed judges from supervising the electoral process. A total of 88 seats were open. The results: 84 seats for the ruling N.D.P., 1 seat for Tagammu, a small opposition party, and 3 seats for N.D.P. members who ran as independent candidates.


Egypt’s economic policies have won it plaudits in the last few years for expanding the economy and attracting foreign investment. Indeed, there is more money flowing into Cairo — which has exacerbated growing tensions between the majority, which is poor, and the minority, which has grown increasingly wealthy. Nearly half of all Egyptians live on $2 a day, or less. Last spring, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund reported that the number of children living in poor households was increasing. The report said that despite the economic growth, which took place before the global economic crisis, by 2009, “the number of poor households with children exceeded 1996 levels.” The report added that 23 percent of children under the age of 15 years in Egypt were living in poverty. In Upper Egypt, the report said that 45.3 percent of the children were living in poverty.

Natural Disasters

A series of disasters in recent years have left many people dead, often as a result of negligence, indifference or incompetence. Hundreds on a train to Luxor in 2002 died in a fire on a third-class car that was decoupled from the engine while it was burning, so that the lead cars could continue to their destination. After a fire in Beni Suef in 2005 left a whole class of college students dead, their grieving relatives were beaten by riot police as they families tried to retrieve bodies from a morgue. About 1,000 people were lost at sea in 2006 after a ferry sank; more than 100 died and a neighborhood was crushed when a ledge on the Moqqutam hills crashed down in 2008.


Egyptians accepted peace with Israel — while never losing the view that Israel remained the enemy — because they were promised a so-called peace dividend of economic growth. They were also told that Egypt’s peace treaty would give it a seat at the negotiating table to help promote the interest of Palestinians. In both cases, they largely feel betrayed.

    Egyptians’ Fury Has Raged Beneath the Surface for Decades, NYT, 28.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/world/middleeast/29mubarak.html






Wall Street Indexes Fall on Concerns About Egypt


January 28, 2011
The New York Times


Shares on Wall Street fell sharply Friday, sent lower by some disappointing economic news and concerns about the growing street protests in Egypt.

Investors have begun to worry about what could happen over the weekend in Egypt. With President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt imposing a night curfew and the military ordered out onto the streets, the tensions across the Arab world’s most populous state remain high.

Following the upheavals that saw Tunisia’s longtime president flee the country Jan. 14., nerves are frayed about how the uprising in Egypt will end and which regional government could be next to face the wrath of its people.

At afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 158.94 points, or 1.3 percent. The broader Standard and Poor’s 500-stock index declined 20.55 points, or 1.6 percent. The technology heavy Nasdaq lost 66.71, or 2.42 percent.

In European trading, the DAX in Frankfurt dropped 0.74 percent, while the CAC 40 in Paris and the FTSE 100 in London lost 1.4 percent.

There is nothing like uncertainty to get investors fidgety especially as the weekend approaches when trades are hanging for longer. Uncertainty can breed a flight out of riskier assets into supposedly safer ones. For now the losers tend to be stocks and the euro, the winners the dollar, the yen and gold.

Prices of the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond rose as the yields fell to 3.32 percent from 3.39 percent.

Simon Derrick, a senior analyst at Bank of New York Mellon, said investors are aware that in a crisis, events can move faster than anticipated.

“This was true, for example, in September and October of 2008 in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and it was true in April and May of last year during the height of the Greek crisis,” Mr. Derrick said. “It therefore appears sensible to note quite how swiftly the Tunisian revolt built and equally, how rapidly street protests emerged in the cities of Egypt.”

Fitch Ratings lowered the outlook for the country’s credit rating to negative and warned of a possible downgrade to the credit rating itself if the unrest intensifies. Richard Fox, the head of the Middle East and Africa desk at Fitch said the move to a negative outlook was the result of the “recent upsurge in political protests and the uncertainty this adds to the political and economic outlook ahead of September’s elections.”

Markets on Wall Street were already tentative after taking in some disappointing earnings and a economic report that was slightly less than expectations.

The Commerce Department said that gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy, grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter. That was up from the 2.6 percent growth in the previous quarter, but less than the 3.5 percent that many economists had expected.

The Ford Motor Company reported fourth-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations. Ford, however, said that it earned $6.6 billion in 2010, its largest profit in 11 years. Ford’s shares were down 14.5 percent.

Two giant technology companies reported earnings after the market closed Thursday. Amazon.com missed Wall Street’s revenue forecast in its latest quarter after the company said that higher costs cut down profit margins. Its shares fell 9.3 percent. Microsoft shares dropped 4.7 percent after it said that the profitability of its Windows division was falling.

The Sara Lee announced a plan to split into two companies. One company, a food and retail business, will retain the Sara Lee name and will include brands Sara Lee, Jimmy Dean and Hillshire Farms. The other has yet to be named and will retain the current company’s beverages and baked goods lines. Sara Lee fell 2.3 percent.

    Wall Street Indexes Fall on Concerns About Egypt, NYT, 28.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/business/29markets.html






American Charged in Pakistan Killing


January 28, 2011
The New York Times


LAHORE, Pakistan — An American official appeared in court here on Friday on murder charges in the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis during an apparent roadside robbery attempt here.

The incident on Thursday in midafternoon traffic could inflame strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, a possibility that the Pakistani government acknowledged while saying it would apply the rule of law.

The provincial law minister in Punjab, Rana Sanaullah, told a news conference that any favoritism toward the official, Raymond A. Davis, 36, would be regarded with suspicion by the Pakistani public.

“Raymond Davis has been charged of murder in the shooting of two motorcyclists while on his way at a congested square of the city,” Mr. Sanaullah said.

Mr. Davis told the magistrates court that he acted in self-defense when the two men tried to rob him.

The trial will be conducted in Pakistan, Mr. Sanaullah said, and the defense will have the right to argue that Mr. Davis acted in self-defense or to claim immunity from Pakistani law.

Mr. Davis will remain in custody for six days so police officials could continue questioning, said Zulfikar Hameed, a senior superintendent of police for investigations.

Mr. Davis, who was attached to the American Consulate in Lahore, was shown on Pakistani television, dressed in a checkered shirt and jeans, being escorted by a phalanx of officers to a court in central Lahore. Mr. Sanaullah said that Mr. Davis spoke Urdu, the dominant language in Pakistan, which relatively few American officials speak.

Mr. Davis was driving a white rental car on the congested Jail Road in Lahore on Thursday afternoon when two men on a motorcycle tried to rob him, according to Pakistani police accounts. Mr. Davis shot the two men, police officials said. Police accounts initially differed on whether the two assailants were armed, but according to the official police report released Friday, the police found weapons on the dead men. Mr. Davis did not have a license to carry a weapon, the law minister said.

Mr. Davis called the consulate for help during the episode, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle that tried to come to his rescue hit and killed a third man, said a senior police official, Faisal Rana, on Thursday.

The American Embassy in Islamabad acknowledged in a statement that Mr. Davis was employed by the consulate but did not describe his position. Pakistani police officials described him in various statements as a “security official” or a “technical adviser.”

The police said one of the men died instantly after being shot by Mr. Davis. The second man died at the hospital, they said, as did the man who was hit by the vehicle.

Lahore residents said roadside robberies by armed men on motorcycles seeking mobile phones and other valuables from drivers, particularly those alone, are relatively common. In most cases, they said, the drivers are not armed and hand over whatever the assailants demand.

The deaths of three Pakistanis in a case involving an armed American official at midday in a busy metropolitan area could heighten anti-American sentiment, which already runs high in Pakistan. Many here distrust and disapprove of the United States’ support of the fight against Taliban militants in the country.

Whether American employees at the three United States consular offices in Pakistan, as well as at the embassy in Islamabad, should be allowed to carry weapons erupted as an issue in the Pakistani press more than a year ago. The question of why Mr. Davis was armed is likely to be raised by Pakistani officials, and by the press.

A brother of one of the dead Pakistanis said in a brief television interview that his family would demand that Davis be “hanged.”

Waqar Gillani reported from Lahore, Pakistan, and Jane Perlez from Islamabad.

    American Charged in Pakistan Killing, NYT, 28.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/world/asia/29pakistan.html






Seizing a Moment, Al Jazeera Galvanizes Arab Frustration


January 27, 2011
The New York Times


The protests rocking the Arab world this week have one thread uniting them: Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel whose aggressive coverage has helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next.

Al Jazeera has been widely hailed for helping enable the revolt in Tunisia with its galvanizing early reports, even as Western-aligned political factions in Lebanon and the West Bank attacked and burned the channel’s offices and vans this week, accusing it of incitement against them.

In many ways, it is Al Jazeera’s moment — not only because of the role it has played, but also because the channel has helped to shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments (and against Israel) ever since its founding 15 years ago. That narrative has long been implicit in the channel’s heavy emphasis on Arab suffering and political crisis, its screaming-match talk shows, even its sensational news banners and swelling orchestral accompaniments.

“The notion that there is a common struggle across the Arab world is something Al Jazeera helped create,” said Marc Lynch, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University who has written extensively on the Arab news media. “They did not cause these events, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera.”

Yet Al Jazeera’s opaque loyalties and motives are as closely scrutinized as its reporting. It is accused of tailoring its coverage to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza against their Lebanese and Palestinian rivals. Its reporter in Tunisia became a leading partisan in the uprising there. And critics speculate that the network bowed to the diplomatic interests of the Qatari emir, its patron, by initially playing down the protests in Egypt.

Not since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when American officials accused it of sympathy for Saddam Hussein and the insurgency that arose after his downfall, has Al Jazeera been such a lightning rod. This time, its antagonists as well as its supporters are spread all over the Arab world.

This week, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, accused Al Jazeera of distorting his positions, inciting violence and trying to destroy him politically. The station had broadcast a special report based on leaked documents that appeared to show Mr. Abbas and his allies offering Israel far-reaching concessions on Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. The reporting set off angry demonstrations against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and in response, Abbas loyalists attacked Al Jazeera’s office in Ramallah.

In Lebanon, Sunni supporters of the ousted prime minister, Saad Hariri, set fire to an Al Jazeera van and menaced a crew in the northern city of Tripoli, accusing the channel of sympathizing with their Shiite opponents.

There is little doubt that Al Jazeera takes sides in the Palestinian dispute, portraying Hamas more favorably than its rivals — and it is more open about Arab anger at Israel than some other outlets. Even the station’s fans concede that it has blind spots and political vulnerabilities.

On Tuesday afternoon, as the street protests in Egypt were heating up, Al Jazeera was uncharacteristically slow to report them, airing a culture documentary, a sports show and more of its “Palestine Papers” coverage of the leaked documents.

Many Egyptians felt betrayed, and Facebook and Twitter were full of rumors about a deal between Qatar — the Persian Gulf emirate whose emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, founded Al Jazeera in 1996 — and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who visited the emir in Doha last month. Within a day, Al Jazeera was reporting from the streets in Cairo in its usual manic style.

Al Jazeera’s freewheeling broadcasts have long made it the bête noire of Arab governments, and in some earlier instances they have succeeded in reining it in.

In 2007, the channel received orders to soften its blunt coverage of Saudi Arabia after Qatar and the Saudis mended a smoldering political feud. That remains a weak point for Al Jazeera — as for most of the pan-Arab press, which is largely owned by Saudi Arabia.

Yet for all its flaws, Al Jazeera still operates with less constraint than almost any other Arab outlet, and remains the most popular channel in the region. To many Arabs, Al Jazeera’s recent exposé on the Palestinian Authority documents — sometimes called “Pali-leaks” — is of a piece with its reporting on protests against autocratic Arab regimes.

The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as a pawn of Israel and the West, an institution with little popular support that is kept alive by force, much like those Arab dictators. If Al Jazeera is often accused of institutional sympathy for Islamists, that is at least in part because Islamism has become the most powerful popular force in the region (though not, curiously enough, in the recent protests).

And Al Jazeera has been widely admired for its aggressive coverage of the Tunisian uprising, which was largely ignored in most Western outlets. The channel succeeded despite serious obstacles: the Tunisian government had barred its reporters from the country, and a Tunisian born-anchor, Mohammed Krichen, arranged for an old friend, Lotfi Hajji, to work under cover as Al Jazeera’s eyes and ears on the ground.

Mr. Hajji, a freelance journalist who also calls himself a human rights activist, was followed and harassed by the secret police almost constantly. After the uprising started, local contacts began sending Mr. Hajji amateur videos of police violence over Facebook. Al Jazeera began showing the grainy cellphone videos on its broadcasts, as part of what the station sympathetically labeled “the Sidi Bouzid Uprising” after the town where a young man started it all by setting himself on fire on Dec. 17.

Each time Al Jazeera broadcast the videos, more would flood into Mr. Hajji’s Facebook account, in a cycle that blew the seeds of revolt across the country.

“During the era of Ben Ali a lot of journalists wouldn’t dare broadcast these images — like a video of a policeman beating a common citizen, because the police might come for them,” Mr. Hajji said. “But being a human rights activist pushed me to show what was really happening.”

Two years ago, an amateur journalist reporting for a Web site was jailed for showing film of an uprising in the Tunisian city of Gafsa; with no coverage in Facebook or Al Jazeera, it never spread to other towns.

As the protests accelerated this month, some Tunisian officials protested that Al Jazeera was hyping the unrest because of its anti-Western agenda: its managers wanted to see a “moderate” Arab regime fall, even if the protesters were not Islamists, like those in so many earlier revolts. But that seems unlikely. Al Jazeera’s producers knew they had a story line that their audience would love.

Since the fall of Tunisia’s autocratic president, Al Jazeera’s reporters and producers have spoken with pride of their role in the events. They also recognize that their reputation as a catalyst carries risks.

“I think we should be careful — I mean we shouldn’t think that our role is to release the Arab people from oppression,” said Mr. Krichen, the anchor.

“But I think we should also be careful not to avoid any popular movement. We should have our eyes open to capture any event that could be the start of the end of any dictator in the Arab world.”

    Seizing a Moment, Al Jazeera Galvanizes Arab Frustration, NYT, 27.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/world/middleeast/28jazeera.html






Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt’s Leaders


January 27, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — It was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first meeting as secretary of state with President Hosni Mubarak, in March 2009, and the Egyptians had an odd request: Mrs. Clinton should not thank Mr. Mubarak for releasing an opposition leader from prison because he was ill.

In fact, a confidential diplomatic cable signed by the American ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, advised Mrs. Clinton to avoid even mentioning the name of the man, Ayman Nour, even though his imprisonment in 2005 had been condemned worldwide, not least by the Bush administration.

The cable is among a trove of dispatches made public by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks that paint a vivid picture of the delicate dealings between the United States and Egypt, its staunchest Arab ally. They show in detail how diplomats repeatedly raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers, and kept tabs on reports of torture by the police.

But they also reveal that relations with Mr. Mubarak warmed up because President Obama played down the public “name and shame” approach of the Bush administration. A cable prepared for a visit by Gen. David H. Petraeus in 2009 said the United States, while blunt in private, now avoided “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years.”

This balancing of private pressure with strong public support for Mr. Mubarak has become increasingly tenuous in recent days. Throngs of angry Egyptians have taken to the streets and the White House, worried about being identified with a reviled regime, has challenged the president publicly.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Mubarak as a partner but said he needed to undertake political and economic reforms. In an interview posted on YouTube, Mr. Obama said neither the police nor the protesters should resort to violence. “It is very important,” he added, “that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances.”

It is not known what Mrs. Clinton said to Mr. Mubarak in their first meeting, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. But she set the public tone afterward, when she was asked by an Arab television journalist about a State Department report critical of Egypt’s human rights record.

“We hope that it will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered, that we all have room for improvement,” Mrs. Clinton said, adding that Mr. Mubarak and his wife, Suzanne, were friends of her family, and that it was up to the Egyptian people to decide the president’s future.

The cables, which cover the first year of the Obama presidency, leave little doubt about how valuable an ally Mr. Mubarak has been, detailing how he backed the United States in its confrontation with Iran, played mediator between Israel and the Palestinians and supported Iraq’s fledgling government, despite his opposition to the American-led war.

Privately, Ambassador Scobey pressed Egypt’s interior minister to free three bloggers, as well as a Coptic priest who performed a wedding for a Christian convert, according to one of her cables to Washington. She also asked that three American pro-democracy groups be granted formal permission to operate in the country, a request the Egyptians rejected.

However effusive the Americans were about Mr. Mubarak in public, the cables offered a less flattering picture of Egypt’s first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. During a visit to the Sinai, one reported, she commandeered a bus that had been bought with money from the United States Agency for International Development and that had been meant to carry children to school.

Egyptian state security was concerned enough about American activities in Sinai, according to another cable, that it surreptitiously recorded a meeting between diplomats and members of a local council.

Yet many more of the cables describe collaboration between the United States and Egypt. In her 2009 visit, Mrs. Clinton was trying to revive the moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Mubarak was central to this: the cables detail his efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israelis and the militant group Hamas in Gaza, as well as American pressure on him to curb the smuggling of weapons to Hamas from Egypt through tunnels.

Mrs. Clinton was also laying out Mr. Obama’s rationale for engaging Iran — an overture, the cables report, that Mr. Mubarak predicted would fail. A May 2009 cable before Mr. Mubarak’s first visit to the Obama White House noted that Egyptian officials told a visiting American diplomat, Dennis B. Ross, that “we should prepare for confrontation through isolation.”

Like other Arab leaders, Mr. Mubarak is depicted in the cables as obsessed with Iran, which he told American diplomats was extending its tentacles from “the Gulf to Morocco” through proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. He views these groups — particularly Hamas, a “brother” of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood — as a direct threat to his own rule.

In a meeting with General Petraeus on June 29, 2009, Mr. Mubarak said the Iranian government wanted to establish “pockets” of influence inside Egypt, according to a cable. General Petraeus told him the United States was responding to similar fears among Persian Gulf states by deploying more Patriot missiles and upgrading its F-16 fighter jets stationed in the region.

Despite obvious American sympathy for Mr. Mubarak’s security concerns, there is little evidence that the diplomats believed the president, now 82, was at risk of losing his grip on power. The May 2009 cable noted that riots over bread prices had broken out in Egypt in 2008 for the first time since 1977. And it said the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood had prompted the government to resort to “heavy-handed tactics against individuals and groups.”

But the cable, again signed by Ambassador Scobey, portrayed Mr. Mubarak as the ultimate survivor, a “tried and true realist” who would rather “let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole.”

“During his 28-year rule,” the cable said, “he survived at least three assassination attempts, maintained peace with Israel, weathered two wars in Iraq and post-2003 regional instability, intermittent economic downturns, and a manageable but chronic internal terrorist threat.”

Another cable, dated March 2009, offered a pessimistic analysis of the prospects for the “April 6 Movement,” a Facebook-based group of mostly young Egyptians that has received wide attention for its lively political debate and helped mobilize the protests that have swept Egypt in the last two days. Leaders of the group had been jailed and tortured by the police. There were also signs of internal divisions between secular and Islamist factions, it said.

The United States has defended bloggers with little success. When Ambassador Scobey raised several arrests with the interior minister, he replied that Egypt did not infringe on freedom of the press, but that it must respond when “people are offended by blogs.” An aide to the minister told the ambassador that The New York Times, which has reported on the treatment of bloggers in Egypt, was “exaggerating the blogger issue,” according to the cable.

American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.

Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.” They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.

To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.

Still, Mr. Mubarak generally views broader reforms as an invitation to extremism. “We have heard him lament the results of earlier U.S. efforts to encourage reform in the Islamic world,” said a cable, noting that he often invoked the shah of Iran — a secular leader who came under pressure from Washington, only to be replaced by an even more repressive, hostile government.

Even the private encounters with Mr. Mubarak have layers of sensitivity. While Mrs. Clinton was advised to steer clear of mentioning Ayman Nour, the cable signed by Ambassador Scobey suggested she might broach the topic of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American author and critic of Mr. Mubarak who fled Egypt after being found guilty of defaming the country.

“If you have any one-on-one opportunity with President Mubarak,” the ambassador wrote, “you may wish to suggest that annulling these cases and allowing him to return to Egypt would also be well received by the new administration.”

It is not clear whether Mrs. Clinton did so.

    Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt’s Leaders, NYT, 27.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/world/middleeast/28diplo.html






Russia Approves Arms Treaty


January 26, 2011
The New York Times


The upper chamber of the Russian Parliament gave final approval to the New Start nuclear arms control treaty on Wednesday, a key foreign policy goal of the Obama administration.

“The arms race is a thing of the past,” the chairman of the international affairs committee in the Russian senate, Mikhail Margelov, told Radio Russia on Monday. “The disarmament race is taking its place.”

The treaty, the first major revamping of nuclear disarmament deals since the late cold war era, sets new limits for strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems, the doomsday weapons of a nuclear exchange. The pact requires the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals to levels slightly lower than today’s — down to 1,550 warheads each, from between 1,700 and 2,200 now — within seven years of ratification, and to immediately renew mutual inspections.

Initially seen as a jumping off point for more ambitious reductions in nuclear weapons held by both countries, the treaty proved far harder to ratify in the United States than expected. It was approved late last month, after a bruising Senate fight.

The Russian process — in a Parliament dominated by pro-Kremlin parties — went more smoothly, and usually hard-line figures here were making celebratory comments earlier this week.

Duma members had voted 350 to 56 for the treaty on Tuesday, far surpassing the 226 votes needed for ratification. Only the Communist and Liberal Democratic parties voted against the treaty.

But, mirroring the process that occurred earlier in the United States Senate, the Russians intend to append a nonbinding statement of interpretation that will formalize what amounts to an agreement to disagree on the American missile defense program, which Russia opposes.

The treaty’s preamble notes a connection between offensive and defense strategic weapons that the United States has interpreted to mean that the treaty does not impose limits on missile-defense systems. The Russians are expected to say, in commentary to be released after ratification, that it does.

“They are welcome to interpret any language of the treaty as they want, but that interpretation is not legally binding on the United States,” Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a telephone interview.

    Russia Approves Arms Treaty, NYT, 26.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/world/europe/27start.html






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, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/world/26diplo.html



















China State Visit Arrival Ceremony

President Obama welcomes President Hu Jintao to the White House

for a state visit in an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn.

January 19, 2011.

YouTube > White House
















A Newly Cooperative China


January 21, 2011
The New York Times


After months of rancor, China is suddenly talking up cooperation on North Korea, the economy, and other difficult issues. There are several possible explanations for the change in tone — and, we hope — substance.

Beijing’s bullying has alienated pretty much everyone out there, and China’s leaders may have finally figured that out. The Obama administration’s recent tough talk, coupled with President Obama’s pomp-filled welcome this week of President Hu Jintao, were also clear reminders of the cost of alienating the United States and the benefits of getting along.

Mr. Hu appeared eager to make his American hosts happy, pledging to work to resolve differences over market access and the protection of intellectual property. He also came bearing gifts. The White House announced $45 billion worth of American export deals to China, which it said would support 235,000 jobs. Many of these deals had been reached as far back as three years ago, but Mr. Hu and Mr. Obama were eager to claim credit.

It is too early to know how far China is really prepared to go, but Mr. Hu made several potentially significant concessions. He said the country would now audit government agencies’ software purchases and publish their results in an attempt to end their widespread use of pirated software. And he signaled that his government is willing to temper the most controversial aspects of its “indigenous innovation” plan to favor domestic companies in government procurement deals.

The plan, as initially conceived, only allowed Chinese state entities to buy certain technology products if their patents were developed and registered in China, excluding foreign suppliers. According to the White House, China dropped the registration requirement and agreed government procurement would not be based “on where the goods’ or services’ intellectual property is developed or maintained,” and that “there will be no discrimination against innovative products made by foreign suppliers operating in China.”

If these policies change, it could defuse some of the biggest sources of tension in the growing economic relations between China and the United States.

There’s even a modicum of good news on China’s artificially cheap currency, the renminbi. Beijing has made a lot of promises, but is still refusing to let the renminbi rise by much. But higher Chinese inflation means that — in real terms — it is appreciating at a rate of about 10 percent a year, which is helping American exports.

President Hu was also more accommodating than usual on North Korea and publicly acknowledged that “a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights.” On both those issues, we’ll take verify over trust. Mr. Hu could start by releasing Liu Xiaobo, the pro-democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

At Washington’s urging, China finally expressed concern over North Korea’s recently unveiled uranium enrichment plant. It still has not denounced North Korea’s torpedoing of a South Korean warship. As the North’s main supplier of fuel and food, China may be the only country that can rein in Pyongyang. American officials said that, in private talks, Mr. Hu agreed to try — but only after Mr. Obama warned that the United States may have to redeploy its military forces in Asia to protect itself from the North’s belligerence.

It is far too early to assume that the Chinese government has decided to turn a new strategic leaf. But it is clearly taking a second look at things. Regular contact is essential. Cajoling and flattery may also help. The lesson of the last few months is that they need to be backed up with regular, firm pushes in the right direction.

    A Newly Cooperative China, NYT, 21.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/22/opinion/22sat1.html






The Rise of Chinese Cheneys


January 19, 2011
The New York Times



When Deng Xiaoping made a landmark visit to the United States in 1979, he was seated near the actress Shirley MacLaine. According to several accounts that Ms. MacLaine confirmed this week, she told Deng rhapsodically about a visit to China during the Cultural Revolution. She described meeting a scholar who had been sent to toil in the countryside but spoke glowingly about the joys of manual labor and the terrific opportunity to learn from peasants.

Deng growled: “He was lying.”

In that blunt spirit, let me offer a quick guide to some of the issues that we have put on the table during President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Washington, at a time when Chinese-American relations are deeply strained and likely to get worse. American opinion tends to be divided between panda-huggers (“China is fabulous!”) and panda-muggers (“China is evil!”), but the truth lies between this yin and yang.

Trade is at the heart of the tensions, and China is clearly keeping its currency artificially low (and probably will continue to do so) in an effort to preserve jobs at home. This is destabilizing the international system — but let’s not exaggerate the impact on our own economy. Chinese goods mostly compete with products from Mexico, South Korea and other countries, and it is stealing jobs from those countries more than from America.

Trade figures also exaggerate China’s exports. For example, China assembles iPhones, so their full value counts as Chinese exports. But, in fact, less than 4 percent of the phone’s value is contributed by China, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank Institute. A greater share is contributed by Japan, Germany, South Korea and the U.S.

Aggressive territorial claims by Beijing are unnerving China’s neighbors as well as Washington. My take is that China has a strong historical case in claiming the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. But China’s claims to a chunk of the South China Sea are preposterous, and its belligerence is driving neighbors closer to America.

There’s also a real risk that Chinese harassment of American planes and ships in international waters will spark a conflict by accident. The collision of Chinese and American military aircraft in 2001 led to a crisis that was defused only because then-President Jiang Zemin was determined to preserve relations with Washington. If such an incident occurred today, President Hu would probably be unwilling or unable to resolve the crisis.

Human rights are complex. Christians are persecuted less than they used to be just a few years ago, and the regime gives ordinary people much more freedom to travel and greater individual space than when I lived in China in the 1980s and 1990s.

That said, the Communist Party has been cracking down hard in the last few years on dissidents and ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs. Its imprisonment of the great writer Liu Xiaobo, and its tantrum after he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, damaged China’s image.

Mr. Obama must speak up: How can one Nobel Peace Prize laureate be silent when meeting the man who imprisons the next?

Support for rogue states, such as North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe, makes conflicts and nuclear proliferation more likely. But, in fairness, China has much less leverage over these countries than Americans assume. And in the last couple of months, it has played a helpful role in both Sudan and North Korea.

Chest-thumping, especially from the military, is poisoning Chinese-American relations. Even Xi Jinping, a pragmatist who has been chosen to replace Mr. Hu as the next supreme leader of China, gave a nasty speech in October falsely accusing the United States of using germ warfare during the Korean War. In truth, Mr. Xi seems to admire the United States — he just sent his only daughter to attend Harvard as an undergraduate — but he apparently feels the need to join the nationalist parade.

President Obama started out very conciliatory toward China, but Beijing perceived that as weakness and walked all over him. Now Mr. Obama is tougher, as he must be.

My take is that China is going through a period resembling the Bush era in the United States: hawks and hard-liners have gained ground in domestic politics, and they scoff at the country’s diplomats as wimps. China’s foreign ministry seems barely a player.

Domestic concerns trump all else, partly because Chinese leaders are nervous about stability and about the delicate transition to Mr. Xi and his team two years from now. A Chinese poll has found that public satisfaction is at its lowest level in 11 years, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao upset hard-liners by calling publicly for more pluralism (he was censored).

The upshot is that China-Firsters — Chinese versions of Dick Cheney — have a greater voice. Brace yourself.

    The Rise of Chinese Cheneys, NYT, 19.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/opinion/20kristof.html






U.S. Shifts Focus to Press China for Market Access


January 18, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — A year ago, the fight over how China’s cheap currency was hurting American companies in marketplaces at home and abroad was shaping up to be the epic battle between the world’s biggest power and its biggest economic rival.

But when President Hu Jintao walks into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with President Obama on Wednesday to face a group of 18 American and Chinese business leaders, much of the clash will be about a new economic battlefield — inside China itself.

A series of trade restrictions imposed by the Chinese government within China, including administrative controls, requirements to transfer sophisticated technology, state subsidies to favored domestic companies and so-called indigenous laws meant to favor homegrown businesses, have angered many American manufacturing and high-tech companies, which are rapidly finding themselves cut out of the world’s fastest growing market.

The result is that the two countries have to resolve a wider range of economic tensions, including what American multinational corporations see as a deteriorating environment for investing and making money in what has become the world’s second largest economy.

So it is no longer just a fight over cheap Chinese textile, electronic and toy imports. China won that battle years ago. Now the question — reminiscent of trade tensions with Japan in the 1980s — is whether General Electric and Microsoft and other American companies that dearly want to expand into China’s rapidly expanding markets will find themselves beaten at their own game by Chinese companies, backed by the Chinese government, “competing at every point in the technology spectrum,” said Eswar Shanker Prasad, a former economist with the International Monetary Fund who now teaches trade policy at Cornell University.

Myron Brilliant, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “It’s no longer just a question of Nucor complaining about dumping,” referring to the American steel manufacturing company that has accused China of selling steel fasteners and bolts at below-market prices abroad. “Those concerns may not be going away, but the noise out there now has additional voices. The voices are not just low-cost products coming here; the competition is about China’s marketplace.”

For Mr. Obama, the shift gives him stronger backing from American businesses for a tougher approach to China when he sits down with Mr. Hu. The Chinese president arrived in Washington on Tuesday afternoon for two full days of high-level meetings that began with a private dinner at the White House on Tuesday evening.

“The business community has historically been the bastion of support for the U.S.-China relationship,” said Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, in an interview. “Now that support is more qualified.” Mr. Froman said that Mr. Obama and American officials would be “underscoring the importance of addressing these issues if we’re going to have a level playing field.”

American companies have always had a love-hate relationship with China — with the manufacturing companies in the South and steel companies in the Midwest urging the government to take tough action against China, and advanced manufacturers and high-tech companies that want access to the Chinese marketplace pressing for a more conciliatory tone.

Now, both sides seem to want the administration to get tough. Last year, Jeffrey R. Immelt of G.E. complained to a meeting of business leaders in Rome that it was getting harder for foreign companies to do business in China, and he expressed a growing irritation that China was protecting its own national companies at the detriment of American companies.

Google last March moved its Chinese service out of mainland China to avoid censorship rules. The American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing has also complained that is members are facing an increasingly difficult regulatory environment.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner signaled the Obama administration’s stance in a speech last week, when he said that the United States would grant China more access to high-tech American products and expand trade and investment opportunities within the United States only if China opened its own domestic market to American products. That push for market access, administration officials said, will be at the top of Mr. Obama’s agenda with Mr. Hu, both during their one-on-one meetings and when they meet with the business leaders.

American multinational corporations, experts said, are hurt by Chinese regulations that openly favor Chinese companies over foreign ones for government contracts. These rules, which are intended to stimulate technological innovation in China, have the effect of cutting American and other non-Chinese companies out of many of the big contracts there.

“U.S. companies have issues with China in many different business sectors,” said John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council in Washington. “But if I were to point to one single issue over the last year, it has been China’s innovation policies and how they link to government procurement.”

Under pressure from the United States and other countries, the Chinese have paused in their rollout of the rules. But Beijing has not scrapped them, and the administration will raise the issue again this week with Mr. Hu.

Mr. Frisbie also pointed to intellectual property rights as another “existential issue” for software developers and movie producers. There is some evidence of progress on this issue: at a meeting in Beijing last month, the Chinese government pledged to use only properly registered software in government offices.

As important as these issues are, some economists argue that they pale when compared with the distortions caused by an undervalued currency. While nationalistic rules that favor Chinese companies affect technology and entertainment giants, China’s cheap currency undercuts tens of thousands of small-scale American manufacturers — companies that still make their products at home.

“The small mom-and-pop companies, which are getting crushed by the renminbi, you never hear from them,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, an expert on the Chinese economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “They don’t really have a voice. They just shrink and go out of business.”

While the renminbi, China’s currency, has risen 3.6 percent against the dollar since China loosened its link to the dollar last June, Mr. Lardy estimates that it is still undervalued by 15 percent to 17 percent on a trade-weighted basis.

Mr. Geithner has argued that it is in China’s self-interest to allow its currency to rise, to curb building inflationary pressures in the Chinese economy. The Chinese government has also declared that it wants to reduce the share of exports in overall economic growth.

But Mr. Lardy said he was skeptical that the Chinese would take the advice, given that they had not accelerated the rise in the currency last fall, when inflation began heating up. And in the wake of a financial crisis that originated in the United States, he said, China would be even less inclined to listen to economic prescriptions from Washington.

“They learned that the advice they’ve been getting from previous Treasury secretaries wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on,” Mr. Lardy said.

    U.S. Shifts Focus to Press China for Market Access, NYT, 18.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/world/asia/19prexy.html






President Hu Comes to Washington


January 17, 2011
The New York Times


There has been a lot of hype, for a long time, about a rising China. There is now no question about China’s growing economic power or its military ambition. Over the past year, relations between Washington and Beijing have become increasingly tense and mistrustful.

When President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China meet at the White House on Wednesday, they must try to set a new course in which competition is carefully managed and a premium is placed on cooperation. That will require a commitment to sustained discussion of the many issues dividing them — and an agreement to keep talking even in difficult times.

For Mr. Obama, the top items include: China’s currency manipulation; its enabling of North Korea and Iran; its abuse of human rights; and its recent challenge to American naval supremacy in the western Pacific.

For Mr. Hu, the top item is winning acknowledgment of its global stature. He will likely goad the president to get America’s fiscal house in order to ensure the safety of China’s large investment.

For a long time we weren’t sure if President Obama had a China strategy. (Beyond muting criticism and hoping for cooperation.) We are increasingly reassured.

Officials acknowledge that China must have a bigger say in the world and believe there are common interests to build on — but they are rightly not ceding anything. Mr. Obama has made clear that he won’t stand by while China tries to bully its neighbors. The United States has embraced India and Southeast Asia more closely and shored up alliances with South Korea and Japan.

We know less about China’s strategy. Its overconfidence is clear. It has been aggressively pressing its claims to disputed islands in the East and South China Seas. The military’s rising influence is troubling.

For a country that claims to be a global power, it is still shirking its responsibilities. China is North Korea’s main supplier of food and fuel, but it has resisted using that leverage to rein in Pyongyang’s erratic and dangerous behavior. For a major player, it can also be remarkably petulant. Even as China pumps huge sums into sophisticated new weapons, it retaliated against American arms sales to Taiwan by suspending military talks with the United States for a year.

China has recently slowed energy investments in Iran and promised to support the southern Sudan referendum. American officials say it has begun to urge North Korea to tone down its belligerence. The Chinese military played host to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week, although its leaders couldn’t resist test flying their new stealth fighter during the visit.

What we don’t know is if these are tactical concessions to ensure a good meeting with Mr. Obama, who offered the pomp China craves — a state dinner and a 21-gun salute — or a serious rethinking on Beijing’s part.

Mr. Obama was far too deferential to Mr. Hu during their Beijing summit. He will need to do better this week. He will have to press Mr. Hu for a convincing pledge that China is committed to a peaceful rise, that it will engage in substantive talks about its military plans and will push North Korea hard to give up its nuclear program.

We also firmly believe that China will never be a great nation if it keeps censoring and imprisoning its people, including the pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize and has been unfairly jailed.

State dinners and 21-gun salutes are ephemeral. What will earn China respect as a major power is if it behaves responsibly. That must be Mr. Obama’s fundamental message.

    President Hu Comes to Washington, G, 17.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/opinion/18tue1.html






Israel Tests on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay


January 15, 2011
The New York Times


This article is by William J. Broad, John Markoff and David E. Sanger.

The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.

Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.

Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”

Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.

The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.

The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.

In interviews over the past three months in the United States and Europe, experts who have picked apart the computer worm describe it as far more complex — and ingenious — than anything they had imagined when it began circulating around the world, unexplained, in mid-2009.

Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.

In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States’ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities.

Seimens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.

“It’s like a playbook,” said Ralph Langner, an independent computer security expert in Hamburg, Germany, who was among the first to decode Stuxnet. “Anyone who looks at it carefully can build something like it.” Mr. Langner is among the experts who expressed fear that the attack had legitimized a new form of industrial warfare, one to which the United States is also highly vulnerable.

Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer program, much less describe any role in designing it.

But Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”

In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran’s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.

By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.

The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said. Israel has long been seeking a way to cripple Iran’s capability without triggering the opprobrium, or the war, that might follow an overt military strike of the kind they conducted against nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.

Two years ago, when Israel still thought its only solution was a military one and approached Mr. Bush for the bunker-busting bombs and other equipment it believed it would need for an air attack, its officials told the White House that such a strike would set back Iran’s programs by roughly three years. Its request was turned down.

Now, Mr. Dagan’s statement suggests that Israel believes it has gained at least that much time, without mounting an attack. So does the Obama administration.

For years, Washington’s approach to Tehran’s program has been one of attempting “to put time on the clock,” a senior administration official said, even while refusing to discuss Stuxnet. “And now, we have a bit more.”


Finding Weaknesses

Paranoia helped, as it turns out.

Years before the worm hit Iran, Washington had become deeply worried about the vulnerability of the millions of computers that run everything in the United States from bank transactions to the power grid.

Computers known as controllers run all kinds of industrial machinery. By early 2008, the Department of Homeland Security had teamed up with the Idaho National Laboratory to study a widely used Siemens controller known as P.C.S.-7, for Process Control System 7. Its complex software, called Step 7, can run whole symphonies of industrial instruments, sensors and machines.

The vulnerability of the controller to cyberattack was an open secret. In July 2008, the Idaho lab and Siemens teamed up on a PowerPoint presentation on the controller’s vulnerabilities that was made to a conference in Chicago at Navy Pier, a top tourist attraction.

“Goal is for attacker to gain control,” the July paper said in describing the many kinds of maneuvers that could exploit system holes. The paper was 62 pages long, including pictures of the controllers as they were examined and tested in Idaho.

In a statement on Friday, the Idaho National Laboratory confirmed that it formed a partnership with Siemens but said it was one of many with manufacturers to identify cybervulnerabilities. It argued that the report did not detail specific flaws that attackers could exploit. But it also said it could not comment on the laboratory’s classified missions, leaving unanswered the question of whether it passed what it learned about the Siemens systems to other parts of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

The presentation at the Chicago conference, which recently disappeared from a Siemens Web site, never discussed specific places where the machines were used.

But Washington knew. The controllers were critical to operations at Natanz, a sprawling enrichment site in the desert. “If you look for the weak links in the system,” said one former American official, “this one jumps out.”

Controllers, and the electrical regulators they run, became a focus of sanctions efforts. The trove of State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks describes urgent efforts in April 2009 to stop a shipment of Siemens controllers, contained in 111 boxes at the port of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. They were headed for Iran, one cable said, and were meant to control “uranium enrichment cascades” — the term for groups of spinning centrifuges.

Subsequent cables showed that the United Arab Emirates blocked the transfer of the Siemens computers across the Strait of Hormuz to Bandar Abbas, a major Iranian port.

Only months later, in June, Stuxnet began to pop up around the globe. The Symantec Corporation, a maker of computer security software and services based in Silicon Valley, snared it in a global malware collection system. The worm hit primarily inside Iran, Symantec reported, but also in time appeared in India, Indonesia and other countries.

But unlike most malware, it seemed to be doing little harm. It did not slow computer networks or wreak general havoc.

That deepened the mystery.


A ‘Dual Warhead’

No one was more intrigued than Mr. Langner, a former psychologist who runs a small computer security company in a suburb of Hamburg. Eager to design protective software for his clients, he had his five employees focus on picking apart the code and running it on the series of Siemens controllers neatly stacked in racks, their lights blinking.

He quickly discovered that the worm only kicked into gear when it detected the presence of a specific configuration of controllers, running a set of processes that appear to exist only in a centrifuge plant. “The attackers took great care to make sure that only their designated targets were hit,” he said. “It was a marksman’s job.”

For example, one small section of the code appears designed to send commands to 984 machines linked together.

Curiously, when international inspectors visited Natanz in late 2009, they found that the Iranians had taken out of service a total of exactly 984 machines that had been running the previous summer.

But as Mr. Langner kept peeling back the layers, he found more — what he calls the “dual warhead.” One part of the program is designed to lie dormant for long periods, then speed up the machines so that the spinning rotors in the centrifuges wobble and then destroy themselves. Another part, called a “man in the middle” in the computer world, sends out those false sensor signals to make the system believe everything is running smoothly. That prevents a safety system from kicking in, which would shut down the plant before it could self-destruct.

“Code analysis makes it clear that Stuxnet is not about sending a message or proving a concept,” Mr. Langner later wrote. “It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style.”

This was not the work of hackers, he quickly concluded. It had to be the work of someone who knew his way around the specific quirks of the Siemens controllers and had an intimate understanding of exactly how the Iranians had designed their enrichment operations.

In fact, the Americans and the Israelis had a pretty good idea.


Testing the Worm

Perhaps the most secretive part of the Stuxnet story centers on how the theory of cyberdestruction was tested on enrichment machines to make sure the malicious software did its intended job.

The account starts in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, the Dutch designed a tall, thin machine for enriching uranium. As is well known, A. Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for the Dutch, stole the design and in 1976 fled to Pakistan.

The resulting machine, known as the P-1, for Pakistan’s first-generation centrifuge, helped the country get the bomb. And when Dr. Khan later founded an atomic black market, he illegally sold P-1’s to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

The P-1 is more than six feet tall. Inside, a rotor of aluminum spins uranium gas to blinding speeds, slowly concentrating the rare part of the uranium that can fuel reactors and bombs.

How and when Israel obtained this kind of first-generation centrifuge remains unclear, whether from Europe, or the Khan network, or by other means. But nuclear experts agree that Dimona came to hold row upon row of spinning centrifuges.

“They’ve long been an important part of the complex,” said Avner Cohen, author of “The Worst-Kept Secret” (2010), a book about the Israeli bomb program, and a senior fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He added that Israeli intelligence had asked retired senior Dimona personnel to help on the Iranian issue, and that some apparently came from the enrichment program.

“I have no specific knowledge,” Dr. Cohen said of Israel and the Stuxnet worm. “But I see a strong Israeli signature and think that the centrifuge knowledge was critical.”

Another clue involves the United States. It obtained a cache of P-1’s after Libya gave up its nuclear program in late 2003, and the machines were sent to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, another arm of the Energy Department.

By early 2004, a variety of federal and private nuclear experts assembled by the Central Intelligence Agency were calling for the United States to build a secret plant where scientists could set up the P-1’s and study their vulnerabilities. “The notion of a test bed was really pushed,” a participant at the C.I.A. meeting recalled.

The resulting plant, nuclear experts said last week, may also have played a role in Stuxnet testing.

But the United States and its allies ran into the same problem the Iranians have grappled with: the P-1 is a balky, badly designed machine. When the Tennessee laboratory shipped some of its P-1’s to England, in hopes of working with the British on a program of general P-1 testing, they stumbled, according to nuclear experts.

“They failed hopelessly,” one recalled, saying that the machines proved too crude and temperamental to spin properly.

Dr. Cohen said his sources told him that Israel succeeded — with great difficulty — in mastering the centrifuge technology. And the American expert in nuclear intelligence, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Israelis used machines of the P-1 style to test the effectiveness of Stuxnet.

The expert added that Israel worked in collaboration with the United States in targeting Iran, but that Washington was eager for “plausible deniability.”

In November, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, broke the country’s silence about the worm’s impact on its enrichment program, saying a cyberattack had caused “minor problems with some of our centrifuges.” Fortunately, he added, “our experts discovered it.”

The most detailed portrait of the damage comes from the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington. Last month, it issued a lengthy Stuxnet report that said Iran’s P-1 machines at Natanz suffered a series of failures in mid- to late 2009 that culminated in technicians taking 984 machines out of action.

The report called the failures “a major problem” and identified Stuxnet as the likely culprit.

Stuxnet is not the only blow to Iran. Sanctions have hurt its effort to build more advanced (and less temperamental) centrifuges. And last January, and again in November, two scientists who were believed to be central to the nuclear program were killed in Tehran.

The man widely believed to be responsible for much of Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, a college professor, has been hidden away by the Iranians, who know he is high on the target list.

Publicly, Israeli officials make no explicit ties between Stuxnet and Iran’s problems. But in recent weeks, they have given revised and surprisingly upbeat assessments of Tehran’s nuclear status.

“A number of technological challenges and difficulties” have beset Iran’s program, Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, told Israeli public radio late last month.

The troubles, he added, “have postponed the timetable.”

    Israel Tests on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay, NYT, 15.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/world/middleeast/16stuxnet.html






Tunisia Leader Flees and Prime Minister Claims Power


January 14, 2011
The New York Times


TUNIS — Tunisia’s president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled his country on Friday night, capitulating after a month of mounting protests calling for an end to his 23 years of authoritarian rule. The official Saudi Arabian news agency said he arrived in the country early Saturday.

The fall of Mr. Ben Ali marked the first time that widespread street demonstrations had overthrown an Arab leader. And even before the last clouds of tear gas had drifted away from the capital’s cafe-lined Bourguiba Boulevard, people throughout the Arab world had begun debating whether Tunisia’s uprising could prove to be a model, threatening other autocratic rulers in the region.

“What happened here is going to affect the whole Arab world,” said Zied Mhirsi, a 33-year-old doctor protesting outside the Interior Ministry on Friday. He carried a sign highlighting how he believed Tunisia’s protests could embolden the swelling numbers of young people around the Arab world to emulate the so-called Jasmine Revolution.

Because the protests came together largely through informal online networks, their success has also raised questions about whether a new opposition movement has formed that could challenge whatever new government takes shape. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a close ally from the president’s hometown, announced on state television that he was taking power as interim president. But that step violated the Tunisian Constitution, which provides for a succession by the head of Parliament, something that Mr. Ghannouchi tried to gloss over by describing Mr. Ben Ali as “temporarily” unable to serve.

Yet by late Friday night, Tunisian Facebook pages previously emblazoned with the revolt’s slogan, “Ben Ali, Out,” had made way for the name of the interim president. “Ghannouchi Out,” they declared.

News of the president’s departure followed, by just hours, the biggest battle yet between the protesters and security forces. Emboldened by a last-minute pledge from Mr. Ben Ali to stop shooting demonstrators, as many as 10,000 people poured into the streets. But when they paraded the body of a person said to have been shot elsewhere in the city, the waiting rows of police officers stormed the crowd, filling the streets with a thick cloud of tear gas and hammering fleeing demonstrators with clubs.

In a final bid to placate the protesters, Mr. Ben Ali had already pledged to hold parliamentary elections in six months. Those elections are now expected to include a presidential contest as well. But fair and open elections would be a first for Tunisia. Mr. Ben Ali, a former prime minister who took power in a bloodless coup, was only the second president of the country, which won independence from France in 1956.

On Friday night the capital remained under a tight curfew. Groups of more than two people were forbidden on the streets after 5 p.m., and no one was allowed out after 8 p.m. State news media warned that the police would shoot curfew violators on sight. Tanks and other security forces were deployed around the city, and the airport was shut down.

As night fell, gangs of security forces armed with machine guns and clubs could be seen chasing down stragglers. Dozens have died in clashes with the police over the last week, and continued gunshots were reported well after curfew on Friday night from several neighborhoods around the capital as sporadic riots continued.

The United States had counted Tunisia under Mr. Ben Ali as an important ally in battling terrorism. But on Friday, President Obama said in a statement that he applauded “the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.”

“The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights,” he said, adding, “We will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard.”

The antigovernment protests began a month ago when a college-educated street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi in the small town of Sidi Bouzid burned himself to death in despair at the frustration and joblessness confronting many educated young people here. But the protests he inspired quickly evolved from bread-and-butter issues to demands for an assault on the perceived corruption and self-enrichment of the ruling family.

The protesters, led at first by unemployed college graduates like Mr. Bouazizi and later joined by workers and young professionals, found grist for the complaints in leaked cables from the United States Embassy in Tunisia, released by WikiLeaks, that detailed the self-dealing and excess of the president’s family. And the protesters relied heavily on social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter to circulate videos of each demonstration and issue calls for the next one.

By midday Friday, hours before news of the president’s departure, demonstrators had gathered outside the Interior Ministry and were already celebrating their anticipated victory and debating its significance.

“Thank you, Al Jazeera,” read one sign, commending the Arab news channel for its nightly coverage of the unrest in the past month — long before the Western news media took serious notice. Many here credit Al Jazeera’s broadcasts with forging the sense of solidarity and empowerment that moved Tunisians across the country to take to the streets simultaneously.

The other side of that sign read “#sidibouzid,” a reference to a Twitter feed, named for the town where the self-immolation took place, that demonstrators used as a forum for their anger and their plans. After news of the president’s departure on Friday, other Twitter posts echoed the theme. “Every Arab leader is watching Tunisia in fear. Every Arab citizen is watching Tunisia in hope & solidarity,” a writer from Cairo wrote to the #sidibouzid feed.

Others in the crowd, however, were eager to emphasize the education and relative affluence that they said distinguished them from other people in the region. “Please don’t say we are the same as Algeria,” said one woman, in fluent English.

“We are the Bourguiba generation,” she said, referring to Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president and the father of its broad middle class. He poured resources into Tunisia’s educational system and made higher education effectively free. He also pushed a social agenda of secularization, women’s rights, birth control and family planning that, in contrast to most countries in the region, slowed population growth, keeping the job of public education and social welfare manageable.

In his last days Mr. Ben Ali cycled through a series of attempts to placate the protesters, firing his interior minister, pledging a corruption investigation, promising new freedoms and a resignation at the end of his term in 2014, and finally dismissing his whole cabinet.

But his promises did no more than the bullets or tear gas to dissuade the protesters from taking to the streets. After hearing Mr. Ben Ali promise in a televised address on Thursday night to stop shooting demonstrators, crowds began to gather outside the Interior Ministry along Bourguiba Boulevard early Friday morning. And when it became clear that the police were standing idle on sidelines, several thousands more joined them, a largely affluent crowd including doctors, lawyers, young professionals and others who said they had never protested before.

For the first time in the month of protests, large numbers of young women joined the crowd, almost none wearing any form of Islamic veil.

Many, accustomed to living under one of the region’s most repressive governments, were both excited and uneasy about their new sense of freedom. “We are too many now, we are too big, it is more difficult to silence us,” one woman said, grinning. “But for us it is new to talk. We are still a little bit scared,” she added, declining to give her name.

As throughout the uprising, they aimed much of their ire at the president’s second wife, the former Leila Trabelsi, a hairdresser from a humble family whose relatives have amassed conspicuous fortunes since her 1992 marriage. “Policeman, open your eyes, the hairdresser is ruling you,” they chanted, addressing Mr. Ben Ali.

“We are suffering from what the Trabelsis stole,” said one protester, a young executive who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals. “Every major sector in Tunisia has been taken. They own part of telecommunications, they own part of the car business, they own part of the supermarkets, everything.”

Elizabeth Heron contributed reporting from New York, Steven Erlanger from Paris, and Mona El-Naggar from Cairo.

    Tunisia Leader Flees and Prime Minister Claims Power, NYT, 14.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/world/africa/15tunis.html






U.S. and China Defense Chiefs Agree to Keep Talking


January 10, 2011
The New York Times


BEIJING — The American and Chinese militaries took micro-steps on Monday toward smoothing over years of conflict and suspicion, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stood stone-faced as China’s defense minister warned the United States yet again not to go against Beijing’s wishes and sell arms to Taiwan.

At the end of two hours of meetings, the United States and China announced a handful of minor developments, among them the establishment of a working group to talk about future talks and the visit to Washington by the chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s general staff sometime in the first half of this year. The American side had pressed for a more specific date.

At times during a joint news conference with Mr. Gates and Gen. Liang Guanglie, the Chinese defense minister, the two seemed to be in the room largely because President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China had ordered their militaries to begin working out their differences ahead of Mr. Hu’s visit next week to the White House.

Mr. Gates, who is in Beijing for three days of talks with Chinese generals and Mr. Hu, did sound some positive notes in what is likely his last visit to Beijing as defense secretary. “I come away from these meetings convinced that the P.L.A. leadership is as committed to fulfilling the mandate of our two presidents as I am,” he said at the news conference, held at the enormous Chinese Defense Ministry, where Mr. Gates was greeted by an elaborate ceremony of goose-stepping Chinese troops.

But General Liang, when asked if the Chinese had agreed not to suspend military relations with the American military the next time the United States sells arms to Taiwan, sounded no positive notes at all.

“On that, China’s position has been clear and consistent,” he said. “We are against it.” The arms sales, he said, “severely damage China’s core interests,” and “we do not want to see that happen again.” He concluded: “Neither do we hope that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will disrupt our military to military relationship.”

In recent years, China has repeatedly suspended military ties with Washington in response to announcements of American arms sales to Taiwan, which China claims as part of its sovereign territory. As China’s military has rapidly expanded in the past decade, there is also the growing danger of a confrontation between American and Chinese forces in the waters of the Pacific, where Chinese ships have increasingly challenged the United States Navy.

China’s military has at the same time grown increasingly assertive with the country’s political leadership, a fact Mr. Gates obliquely acknowledged to reporters en route to Beijing. Asked if he thought China’s political leaders were pressing for improved military relations with the United States even though the Chinese military did not necessarily want them, Mr. Gates replied, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Despite a nascent American -Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific — Mr. Gates said Saturday that the Pentagon was stepping up investments in weapons to counter China’s recent development of a radar-evading fighter jet and a missile that has the potential to hit American aircraft carriers — General Liang on Monday reiterated the Chinese position that they were a generation behind the United States militarily and interested only in their own defense.

“We can by no means call ourselves an advanced military force,” General Liang said, becoming more animated as he spoke. “The gap between us and that of advanced countries is at least two to three decades.” He added that China was interested only in its own security and that “there are some people always in the world who want to label China’s military development a so-called threat to the world.”

American military officials say that China appears to be focusing on technologies that would help bolster its effort to expand the territory that it can declare as its exclusive area of influence. Its next generation of anti-ship missiles, American officials say, could force the United States to keep its warships a long way from Chinese shores and from Taiwan. Ultimately, they say, the new technologies could give China an ability to operate hundreds of miles beyond its shores with a freedom it has never before enjoyed.

Later on Monday, Mr. Gates met at the Great Hall with Vice President Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to Mr. Hu. “I believe the two sides should jointly and earnestly implement the consensus of our heads of state and make sure that our bilateral relations progress on the right track,” Mr. Xi said in a statement for the cameras, shortly before reporters were pushed out of the room while Mr. Gates was making his remarks.

Beyond a commitment to continue talking, the meeting appeared to produce little of substance, said Huang Jing, a visiting professor and expert on China’s military and leadership at the National University of Singapore.

“The Chinese are playing tai chi with the Americans,” he said, referring to the Chinese martial art of self- defense. “Gates is going out; there are a lot of uncertainties about the Obama administration, its policy and the likelihood that there is going to be a second term. They want to wait until the dust settles down in Washington.”

Nor, he said, is the relationship likely to change much in the near future. China’s military sees Beijing as a rising power and Washington as a declining one, he said, and so it has little incentive to accede to the Pentagon’s requests for more transparency and a more responsible approach toward regional peace and security, especially on North Korea and territorial disputes with regional neighbors.

“As a result, you can see they shake hands and say we love to talk and would like to continue. That’s an achievement, but there’s not much substance there,” he said.

Mr. Gates is scheduled to make a brief visit to Seoul on Friday to discuss the flaring inter-Korean tensions that followed the North’s shelling of a South Korean island in November, an episode that killed two marines and two civilians.

Mr. Gates is also to stop in Japan, and he is likely to press for more military cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo, as Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did last month on a similar tour of the region.


Michael Wines contributed reporting from Beijing, and Mark McDonald from Seoul, South Korea.

    U.S. and China Defense Chiefs Agree to Keep Talking, NYT, 10.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/world/asia/11military.html






U.S. Says Sanctions Hurt Iran Nuclear Program


January 10, 2011
The New York Times


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon has been delayed by sanctions, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said here on Monday, the strongest claim yet by the Obama administration that its pressure campaign is hampering Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Iran has had technological problems that have made it slow down its timetable,” Mrs. Clinton said a televised town-hall meeting at a university in this Persian Gulf emirate. “The sanctions are working,” she added. “Their program, from our best estimate, has been slowed down.”

Her blunt statement, which comes after similar comments by Israeli and European officials, is sure to color the debate in the Middle East. Iran’s neighbors have watched its drive for nuclear status with increasing alarm, with some pressing the United States to act against Tehran soon.

Mrs. Clinton did not detail the problems with Iran’s program, how long a delay they might cause, or the precise sources of her information. But she argued that the difference between a one-year development cycle and a three- or four-year cycle does not alter the strategic choices that confront Iran’s neighbors or the rest of the world.

Speaking to students on the first day of a four-day visit to the region, Mrs. Clinton urged Arab states not to waver in enforcing sanctions. Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where she traveled later on Monday, have curtailed their banking relationships with Iran, under pressure from the United States.

“If Iran gets a nuclear weapon,” Mrs. Clinton said, “won’t you believe you have to have a nuclear weapon too?”

Raising the prospect of a calamitous nuclear arms race in the Middle East, she said, “It’s first and foremost in the interests of the region to persuade Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons.”

Iran has repeatedly asserted that its nuclear development program is for peaceful civilian purposes.

Last week, the departing director of Israel’s intelligence service, Meir Dagan, said he believed Iran would not be able to make a bomb until 2015, at the earliest, “because of measures that have been deployed against them.”

There is evidence of computer sabotage from an unknown source that has caused glitches in the functioning of the centrifuges that Iran uses to enrich uranium. American officials have also said that Iran is having trouble obtaining materials like carbon fiber to build the centrifuges.

The administration says the sanctions are squeezing Iran’s leaders in other ways, depriving them of access to financial markets and turning the Iranian state shipping line into a pariah in foreign ports.

Although Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were the most public statement of the effect of sanctions on Iran’s program, in written testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last December, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, William J. Burns, said, “Sanctions have hindered Iran’s development of a nuclear capability and the means to deliver them.”

Mrs. Clinton’s trip has other elements – including a stop Monday at a solar-energy research facility – but her meetings have been dominated by what to do about Iran. The fear of Gulf leaders about a nuclear Iran was palpable in the diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group.

Mrs. Clinton said the success of the sanctions may have bought the international community some additional breathing room. But she seemed determined to avoid complacency. “We have time, but not a lot of time,” she said to three female hosts of a program called “Sweet Talk.”

Aside from a soft-ball question about how Mrs. Clinton met her husband at law school, there was little sweet talk on the program, much of which revolved around the threat from Iran and the administration’s fruitless efforts to broker a peace agreement in the Middle East.

Mrs. Clinton continually linked the two issues, accusing Iran of stoking the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a way of deflecting attention from its nuclear activities.

“If they can shift attention away from their own internal decisions about whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons, they will be very happy about that,” she said, adding, “We cannot let that attention get diverted.”

Despite the recent setbacks, she said the United States remained committed to a two-state solution. Direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians fell apart late last year because of a deadlock over the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

On Sunday, tensions were inflamed further when Israel began bulldozing the Shepherd’s Hotel, a decaying, but symbolic building in East Jerusalem once owned by Palestinians, to make way for new Jewish apartments. She said in a statement that the demolition “contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem.”

Speaking here, she said, “It is hard for both the Palestinians and the Israelis to have enough trust and confidence in the other to take the risks for peace. Part of what I am trying to do is to build up outside support for these tough decisions.”

    U.S. Says Sanctions Hurt Iran Nuclear Program, NYT, 10.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/world/middleeast/11diplo.html






U.S. Shifts Toward Talks on N. Korea


January 6, 2011
The New York Times


BEIJING — On the heels of a North Korean plea for negotiations to end the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Obama administration envoys central to stalled six-party talks met Thursday with their Chinese counterparts, and one said he was hopeful that serious talks on North Korea would begin soon.

The comment, by Stephen W. Bosworth, the special representative for North Korea policy, underscores a shift in the American approach to North Korea, away from two years of what the administration called “strategic patience” marked by steadfast refusal to engage with the North.

With China’s president, Hu Jintao, scheduled to visit Washington in two weeks, the United States is trying to choreograph a resumption of the multiparty talks with the North that include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. The United States has begun pressing the North to back up its newly conciliatory words with proof that it has abandoned its recent bellicose behavior. At the same time, it is nudging a deeply suspicious South to be receptive to the North’s overture.

Mr. Bosworth and Sung Kim, the United States envoy to the suspended six-party talks, met in Beijing with Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and Wu Dawei, China’s representative to the talks, as well as Wang Jiarui, a senior foreign affairs official in the Communist Party. The Americans’ next stop is Japan.

There were no statements on the specifics of the Beijing meeting, but Mr. Bosworth was widely expected to seek details of a meeting last month between China’s top foreign policy official, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il.

As North Korea’s closest ally, China has come under rising pressure from the United States and domestic critics to take a harder line toward the North after its Nov. 23 artillery attack on a South Korean island, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.

In the past week, North Korea has repeatedly sought dialogue with the South. On Thursday, South Korea rejected North Korea’s offer on Wednesday of “unconditional” peace talks “anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones,” according to local news media reports.

That offer followed New Year’s commentaries in Northern newspapers calling for dialogue and a relaxation of tensions “as soon as possible.”

South Korean officials, however, quickly pointed out that the recent statements from Pyongyang followed a pattern of provocative acts followed by calls for talks that sought concessions.

“We have emphasized that it is important for North Korea to show a sincere attitude about inter-Korean dialogue and inter-Korean relations,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kim Young-sun, said in a report carried by the South Korean news service Yonhap.

Relations between the Koreas are perhaps more strained than at any time since the end of the Korean War in 1953. In March, a torpedo attack attributed to North Korea sank a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. North Korea has denied responsibility.

In November, Pyongyang revealed the existence of a modern and previously unknown uranium enrichment facility. Shortly after came the North’s lethal attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

But when the South responded with more military exercises, the North withheld retaliation.


Michael Wines reported from Beijing, and Mark Landler from Washington. Kevin Drew contributed reporting from Hong Kong and Sharon LaFraniere from Beijing.

    U.S. Shifts Toward Talks on N. Korea, NYT, 6.1.20111, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/world/asia/07korea.html






U.S. Cautions People Named In Cable Leaks


January 6, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The State Department is warning hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials and businesspeople identified in leaked diplomatic cables of potential threats to their safety and has moved a handful of them to safer locations, administration officials said Thursday.

The operation, which involves a team of 30 in Washington and embassies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, reflects the administration’s fear that the disclosure of cables obtained by the organization WikiLeaks has damaged American interests by exposing foreigners who supply valuable information to the United States.

Administration officials said they were not aware of anyone who has been attacked or imprisoned as a direct result of information in the 2,700 cables that have been made public to date by WikiLeaks, The New York Times and several other publications, many with some names removed. But they caution that many dissidents are under constant harassment from their governments, so it is difficult to be certain of the cause of actions against them.

The officials declined to discuss details about people contacted by the State Department in recent weeks, saying only that a few were relocated within their home countries and that a few others were moved abroad.

The State Department is mainly concerned about the cables that have yet to be published or posted on Web sites — nearly 99 percent of the archive of 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks. With cables continuing to trickle out, they said, protecting those identified will be a complex, delicate and long-term undertaking. The State Department said it had combed through a majority of the quarter-million cables and distributed many to embassies for review by diplomats there.

“We feel responsible for doing everything possible to protect these people,” said Michael H. Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, who is overseeing the effort. “We’re taking it extremely seriously.”

Contrary to the administration’s initial fears, the fallout from the cables on the diplomatic corps itself has been manageable. The most visible casualty so far could be Gene A. Cretz, the ambassador to Libya, who was recalled from his post last month after his name appeared on a cable describing peculiar personal habits of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. While no decision has been made on Mr. Cretz’s future, officials said he was unlikely to return to Tripoli. In addition, one midlevel diplomat has been moved from his post in an undisclosed country.

But other senior diplomats initially considered at risk — for example, the ambassador to Russia, John R. Beyrle, whose name was on cables critical of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin — appeared to have weathered the disclosures.

There is anecdotal evidence that the disclosure of the cables has chilled daily contacts between human rights activists and diplomats. An American diplomat in Central Asia said recently that one Iranian contact, who met him on periodic trips outside Iran, told him he would no longer speak to him. Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, said people in Afghanistan and Pakistan had become more reluctant to speak to human rights investigators for fear that what they said might be made public.

WikiLeaks came under fire from human rights organizations last July, after it released a large number of documents about the war in Afghanistan without removing the names of Afghan citizens who had assisted the American military. When it later released documents about the Iraq war, the group stripped names from the documents.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Chris Perrine, said Thursday that the military was not aware of any confirmed case of harm to anyone as a result of being named in the Afghan war documents. But he noted that the Taliban had said it would study the WikiLeaks documents to punish collaborators with the Americans.

State Department officials believe that a wide range of foreigners who have spoken candidly to American diplomats could be at risk if publicly identified. For example, a businessman who spoke about official corruption, a gay person in a society intolerant of homosexuality or a high-ranking government official who criticized his bosses could face severe reprisals, the officials said.

Human rights advocates share the State Department’s concern that many people could be at risk if cables become public without careful redaction. “There are definitely people named in the cables who would be very much endangered,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.

In one case, Mr. Malinowski said, the State Department asked Human Rights Watch to inform a person in a Middle Eastern country that his exchanges with American diplomats had been reported in a cable.

In addition to The Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel have had the entire cable database for several months. The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten said last month that it had obtained the entire collection, and newspapers in several other countries have obtained a selection of cables relating to their regions.

WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange, has said the group will continue to release additional cables on its own Web site as well, though to date it has moved cautiously and has reproduced the redactions made by newspapers publishing the cables.

Government officials are also worried that foreign intelligence services may be trying to acquire the cable collection, a development that would heighten concerns about the safety of those named in the documents.

For human rights activists in this country, disclosures by WikiLeaks, which was founded in 2006, have been a decidedly mixed development. Amnesty International gave WikiLeaks an award in 2009 for its role in revealing human rights violations in Kenya. Human Rights Watch wrote to President Obama last month to urge the administration not to pursue a prosecution of WikiLeaks or Mr. Assange.

But they are concerned that the cables could inflict their own kind of collateral damage, either by endangering diplomats’ sources or discouraging witnesses and victims of abuses from speaking to foreign supporters.

Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s operations in Asia, said the cables had provided valuable “empirical information” on abuses in several countries. “This is a new way to distribute information,” Mr. Zarifi said. “We just want to make sure it has the same safeguards as traditional journalism.”

    U.S. Cautions People Named In Cable Leaks, NYT, 6.1.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/world/07wiki.html












Anglonautes > English vocabulary > Politics > International / Diplomacy

Anglonautes > English vocabulary > Politics > Democracy / Dictatorship