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History > 2009 > USA > Politics > International (II)





Ronald J. Cala II

 Another Challenge for Obama: Iran


29 May 2009
















Issues Warning

to North Korea


May 31, 2009
The New York Times


SINGAPORE — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned North Korea on Saturday that the United States would not accept it as a nuclear weapons state, as Asian security officials struggled to find a new way to deal with the isolated Communist nation.

“We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia — or on us,” Mr. Gates told a major defense conference here that has been dominated by North Korea’s test this week of a nuclear device and the firing of at least six short-range missiles, all in defiance of international sanctions.

Mr. Gates said that he did not consider North Korea’s nuclear program “a direct military threat” to the United States, but added that its progress “is a harbinger of a dark future.” One of the chief concerns among United States officials is that North Korea will sell its nuclear technology.

Although Mr. Gates said that the administration was planning to discuss with its Asian allies how to move forward with the six-party talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, he acknowledged during a question and answer session that “it would be hard to point to them at this point as an example of success.”

In Washington on Saturday, a senior American official confirmed South Korean news reports of indications that the North was preparing to ship an inter-continental ballistic missile toward a missile testing site on the Sea of Japan, a sign that Pyongyang might be planning another long-range missile test. It would likely take several weeks for the missile to reach the site and be put in place, and there is still no evidence that the North Koreans have the technology to create a nuclear device small enough to fit atop a missile.

The North Koreans have conducted two such tests before, including one over Japanese territory, and American officials are particularly concerned about Japanese reaction to another test. Such missiles are theoretically capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii.

A C.I.A. assessment has concluded that North Korea has built one or two nuclear weapons and harvested the fuel for six or more weapons.

Throughout the day at the annual conference in Singapore, called the Shangri-La Dialogue, Mr. Gates met with defense officials from China, South Korea, Japan and other Asian nations to try to begin pulling together an international consensus on how to proceed. James B. Steinberg, the deputy Secretary of State, attended a number of the meetings, as did Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence.

There was talk of toughening economic sanctions on North Korea and a widespread view that long-running six-nation talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear program had failed. Beyond that, nothing specific emerged.

“There’s no prescription yet on what to do,” said a senior American defense official who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The official said that one “prudent option” was “what should we be thinking about in the event that we need to start enhancing our posture, our defenses?” But the official said that it was premature to talk of building up American forces in the region — an echo of comments from Mr. Gates on Friday that the United States had no plans to reinforce some 28,000 American troops based in South Korea.

Late in the day, Mr. Gates had a three-way meeting focused on North Korea with the defense ministers of South Korea and Japan, a precursor to more detailed discussions to occur next week in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing about North Korea’s nuclear test. Mr. Steinberg is to lead the American team at those meetings; the group will include Stuart Levey, the Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, an indication that tough economic measures against North Korea will be a significant part of the discussions.

Military officials traveling with Mr. Gates said the tough talk was aimed in large part at increasing worldwide pressure on North Korea as well as reassuring allies in the region, particularly Japan and South Korea, that the United States was committed to their defense should North Korea make good on its talk of war this week. On Wednesday, North Korea threatened military strikes against the South.

Mr. Gates met early on Saturday with the highest-ranking official sent to the conference by China, Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, the deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army. American Defense officials said after the meeting that China, the country that has the most influence over North Korea, clearly viewed the nuclear test seriously, a reflection of General Ma’s public remarks at the conference.

“We are resolutely opposed to nuclear proliferation,” General Ma said, adding that “we hope that all parties concerned will remain cool-headed and take measured measures to address the problem.”

The United States has been pressing the Chinese government for a tough response, but it remains unclear if China is willing to engage in a heightened showdown with North Korea. In the past, China has feared the collapse of North Korea’s government could lead to refugees pouring across its border.

In Moscow, the Kremlin issued a statement saying President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan had agreed on the need for a serious response to the nuclear test, Reuters reported.

In Mr. Gates’ formal remarks at the conference, his first as an emissary of President Obama, he made clear that the new administration had limited patience with North Korea’s bellicose words and behavior.

“President Obama has offered an open hand to tyrannies that unclench their fists,” Mr. Gates said. “He is hopeful, but he is not naïve. Likewise, the United States and our allies are open to dialogue, but we will not bend to pressure or provocation.”

Military officials acknowledged that the United States had only limited information about what was really happening inside North Korea and suspected that its leader, Kim Jong-il, was in the midst of political maneuvers to make his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, his successor. The officials described the country’s leadership as unpredictable and bizarre.

Although North Korea was the “hot topic” at the conference, as Mr. Gates put it, the defense secretary also used the forum to appeal to Asian allies for help, both financial and military, with the war in Afghanistan.

“I know some in Asia have concluded that Afghanistan does not represent a strategic threat for their countries, owing in part to Afghanistan’s geographic location,” Mr. Gates said. “But the threat from failed or failing states is international in scope.”

The defense secretary said that extremists in Asia who have engaged in terrorism in Bali and guerrilla warfare in the Philippines “are inspired by, and at times have received support directly from, groups operating along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border — the ungoverned space from which this threat ultimately emanates.”

Failure in Afghanistan, Mr. Gates said, “would have international reverberations — and, undoubtedly, many of them would be felt in this part of the world.”

In representing Mr. Obama, Mr. Gates sought to draw a distinction between the new president and his predecessor. Mr. Gates noted that Mr. Obama had spent part of his childhood in Indonesia and that it was the first time “that we have had a president with such a personal connection to the region.”

Mr. Gates concluded that the United States, “in our efforts to protect our own freedom, and that of others” had “from time to time made mistakes, including at times being arrogant in dealing with others.” Mr. Gates did not name names, but then said, “We always correct our course.”


David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.

    Gates Issues Warning to North Korea, NYT, 31.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/world/asia/31military.html?hp







Another Challenge for Obama: Iran


May 29, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Have We Already Lost Iran?” (Op-Ed, May 24):

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that President Obama will not achieve rapprochement with Iran because “some allies and domestic constituencies” won’t let him accede to Iran’s mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle and its links with Hamas and Hezbollah.

But why is rapprochement strategically desirable — or even morally permissible — if it means accepting Iran as a quasi-nuclear power with active ties to terrorist organizations? Why is it in America’s interest, or good for America’s credibility with our regional allies, to sign off on Iran’s ambitions to dominate the Middle East?

And though the Leveretts trivialize President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chronic Holocaust denial as “periodic inflammatory statements,” why shouldn’t the United States demand that Iran’s ruling clerics forswear their decades-old goal of destroying Israel?

A constructive relationship with Iran is a worthy pursuit, but it cannot come at any price.

Doug Lieb
New York, May 24, 2009

The writer is the executive assistant to the executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

To the Editor:

The article by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett about the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran is, unfortunately, right on target. The new administration seems to be backing in slow motion into a rerun of the previous administration’s shortsighted policy toward Iran. This has grave potential consequences for the stability of the Middle East.

The hidden United States efforts to destabilize the current Iranian government, combined with the announced administration year-end deadline for the achievement of progress in the talks on Iran’s nuclear policy, threaten to lead us into direct conflict with yet a third country in this troubled region. This will benefit neither America nor its allies.

This is not the change that Obama supporters voted for last November.

Mark W. Stanton
Laurel, Md., May 25, 2009

To the Editor:

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett call upon President Obama to accept an Iranian nuclear fuel cycle that “would leave Iran in effect like Japan” with a “carefully safeguarded” program.

It is Iran, not the United States, that has repeatedly misled the International Atomic Energy Agency by failing to open all declared and undeclared nuclear sites to international inspection as required under safeguards.

If it had done so years ago, it could arguably have been treated like Japan, and the nuclear issue would not have been the roadblock it has become to better relations with Washington.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the I.A.E.A. director general, in his Feb. 19 evaluation of Iran’s nonproliferation compliance, underscored the point when he reported that Tehran’s “continued lack of cooperation” gives “rise to concerns about possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program.”

If the mullahs expect to put nuclear concerns to rest to promote better relations with the West, the time is long overdue for them to come clean about “all” their nuclear activities.

Bennett Ramberg
Los Angeles, May 25, 2009

The writer served in the State Department in the George H. W. Bush administration.

To the Editor:

I don’t agree with the view of Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett that President Richard M. Nixon’s policy change toward China represents the model of how American policy should change toward Iran.

Our central problem with Iran is that it wants to destroy Israel, while we want to defend Israel and find a way to arrange a satisfactory peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our diametrically opposed objectives do not leave much room for negotiated compromise.

This has led to a cold war between our two sides.

In the last cold war, President Ronald Reagan showed us how victory can be achieved in part through a vigorous battle of ideas and philosophies. This represents the policy model we should follow rather than the example of President Nixon and China.

James Bernstein
New York, May 25, 2009

To the Editor:

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett assert that the Obama administration’s Iran policy is “guaranteed to fail” from the “incoherence” of negotiating while threatening tough sanctions and retaining a last resort of military action to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.

The Leveretts’ favored alternative is coherent, but fully acquiescent: first, explicitly rule out sanctions or force; negotiate with Iran’s proxies Hezbollah and Hamas while allowing them free rein; and accept Iran’s nuclear enrichment program while managing “proliferation risks.”

Their notion that Iran could be like Japan, with nuclear technology but no bombs, ignores fundamental differences. Japan, with no domestic energy, wants nuclear power but feels secure under the American nuclear umbrella.

Iran is precisely the opposite — generously endowed with energy but pursuing weapons to boost its regional influence, spread its ideology and threaten Israel.

In short, here’s the Leveretts’ bargain: we agree to a nuclear-armed, radical Iran, and Iran accepts.
Alan Fisher

Geneva, May 24, 2009

The writer is a physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (formerly known as the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) at Stanford University.

To the Editor:

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett propose that President Obama follow President Richard M. Nixon’s example when he agreed to help leaders of China work toward free enterprise.

With that same vision, President Obama would recognize Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle program as increasingly sophisticated and properly safeguarded, like that of Japan, and important to Iran’s and world interests in moving from overdependence on diminishing supplies of oil.

President Obama should also follow the example of President Harry S. Truman when he listened to and followed the advice of Manhattan Project officers to assure the safest and most successful programs for production and processing of nuclear materials for medicine, space exploration, defense and other important national programs.

President Obama would listen to and follow the advice of engineers who provided leadership and oversight for these programs and make changes to restore America’s proper role as a leader in energy and nuclear technology.

Clinton Bastin
Avondale Estates, Ga., May 24, 2009

The writer was a consultant to United States national security agencies on nuclear proliferation threat assessment.

    Another Challenge for Obama: Iran, NYT, 29.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/opinion/l29iran.html?hpw






South Korea and U.S. Raise Alert Level


May 29, 2009
The New York Times


SEOUL, South Korea — One day after North Korea warned of a possible attack against the South, the United States and South Korea ordered their forces here to their highest alert for three years, increasing surveillance flights and satellite reconnaissance to counter what officials termed a “grave threat.”

The move was the latest sign of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test on Monday, sparking a confrontation with South Korea and the international community that has built into ever more bellicose rhetoric. North Korea reinforced its menacing language by test-firing six short-range missiles earlier in the week.

The South Korean Defense Ministry said allied troops, including, 28,000 U.S. soldiers based in South Korea, raised their Watch Condition, or Watchcon, to the second-highest level from Watchcon 3 to Watchcon 2.

South Korea has put its military on such a high level of alert only five times since hostilities in the three-year Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, most recently when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006.

The upgraded alert provides for a significant increase in the use of reconnaissance planes and spy satellites, as well as a more vigorous gathering and analysis of electronic signals from the North, ministry officials said.

The Defense Ministry declined to confirm South Korean news reports that its military has moved or planned to move warships and artillery to islands near the western sea border with North Korea. But a South Korean military official said that in recent months, North Korea has increased training exercises among its coastal artillery units opposite the South Korean islands.

The North’s state-controlled media warned on Thursday that “even a minor accidental clash could lead to nuclear war.”

“It’s a matter of time when a fuse for war is triggered,” the North Korean government’s official newspaper, Minju Joseon, said in a commentary carried by the state-run news agency KCNA.

As the South Korean government urged its people to remain calm, there was no sign of anxiety among villagers along the border. In Seoul, with a population of 10.4 million and just 35 miles from the border, preparations continued for the funeral on Friday of former President Roh Moo-hyun who committed suicide last Saturday.

North Korea intensified its threats against South Korea and the United States on Wednesday with warnings of a “powerful military strike” if any North Korean ships were stopped or searched as part of an American-led operation to intercept vessels suspected of carrying unconventional weapons.

South Korea agreed to join the operation after North Korea’s nuclear test on Monday. The North had earlier warned the South not to participate in the operation, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative.

In their Wednesday statement, the North Koreans also said that they “no longer feel bound” by the 1953 armistice. Technically, the two Koreas have remained at war for more than 50 years, because the 1953 armistice was never replaced with a final peace treaty. The North Koreans had previously called the armistice a “useless piece of paper” and declared that they no longer felt bound by it. Washington and Seoul consider such North Korean statements a gambit to raise tension and draw the United States to bilateral talks.

In Washington, Secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “North Korea continues to act in a provocative and belligerent manner toward its neighbors.”

“There are consequences to such actions,” she said, adding that discussions were under way at the United Nations “to add to the consequences North Korea will face.”

Diplomats said American and Japanese officials were drafting a Security Council resolution that would concentrate on five or six ways to flesh out existing sanctions against North Korea that had never been enforced. Although China supports the idea of sanctions, it wants to work slowly and to bolster measures first passed in 2006 rather than creating new ones, they said.

The proposals include banning imports and exports of all arms — only heavy weapons are restricted now. “We want to dry out their resources for the military,” said a senior Western diplomat, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Since inter-Korean relations began deteriorating a year ago, analysts at government-run and private policy institutes in South Korea have often warned of a possible naval skirmish. In interviews in recent weeks, they have said that if South Korea joined the global interdiction program, the chances of a North Korean provocation would increase.

The analysts said North Korea might stage a limited armed provocation along the disputed western sea border, where the two navies clashed in skirmishes in June 1999 and June 2002 during the crabbing season. Any clash between the Koreas would probably be on a similarly limited scale, the analysts said.

South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, lauded his people on Wednesday for their “mature response” to the North’s behavior. He noted that the North’s nuclear test and its subsequent missile launchings did not affect stock indexes and foreign exchange markets beyond initial jitters.

Seoul, the South Korean capital, with a population of 10.4 million, is just 35 miles from the North Korean border and well within the range of North Korean missiles and artillery. But most South Koreans and foreign investors here are accustomed to threats from the North.

Meanwhile, analysts said, South Korea’s decision to join the antiproliferation initiative — a global effort that seeks to interrupt air and sea deliveries of nuclear and other unconventional weapons, missile parts and delivery systems — is largely symbolic. Seoul has said that it will stop only suspicious ships in its own territorial waters, a sovereign right it already has. In addition, the chance that the North would send ships carrying such materials into South Korean waters is low.

Reporting was contributed by Mark McDonald from Hong Kong, Thom Shanker from Washington, and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations. Alan Cowell contributed from Paris.

    South Korea and U.S. Raise Alert Level, NYT, 29.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/world/asia/29korea.html?hp






Pelosi Calls for US-Chinese Climate Cooperation


May 26, 2009
Filed at 5:22 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BEIJING (AP) -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a frequent, fierce critic of China, called for U.S.-Chinese cooperation to fight climate change in a speech Tuesday that skirted human rights and other contentious issues.

Pelosi's comments to an audience of Chinese and American officials and businesspeople stressed common environmental interests -- an approach that fits with President Barack Obama's emphasis on engagement with Beijing, rather than confrontation.

''We believe China and the United States can and must confront the challenge of climate change together,'' Pelosi said. Noting that the two countries are the world's biggest emitters of gases blamed for climate change, she said, ''we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our country, to our people and to the world to work together on this.''

The leading Democratic lawmaker's visit is part of a flurry of contacts between Washington and Beijing that highlight their wide-ranging cooperation on issues including North Korea's nuclear program and combatting the global economic slump. Next week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner travels to Beijing in part to ease Chinese concerns about the health of the dollar and thus the value of China's holdings of U.S. government debt.

Underscoring the shift in emphasis was Pelosi's change in tone. For nearly 20 years, the California Democrat has frequently criticized Beijing over human rights and opposed giving the authoritarian government normal trading rights and the Olympics.

Pelosi, who leaves Beijing on Thursday for Hong Kong, mentioned human rights glancingly, though she said in a speech in Shanghai on Monday that she would ''continue to speak out for human rights in China and around the world.''

Climate change is an issue the Obama administration has chosen as a new area for cooperation with China.

Pelosi told the business forum that working together on climate change could transform U.S.-Chinese relations.

''It is an opportunity that we cannot miss,'' Pelosi told the audience, which included a former Chinese foreign minister and China's ambassador to Washington. The event was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in China and the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum, an industry group.

Pelosi brought with her five members of a House committee on energy policy and global warming. She has promised to press for passage of climate legislation this year, and Obama has said that he wants a bill. A bill that would impose the first U.S. litmus test on greenhouse gas emissions was approved by a House committee last week, a step being considered by the full House later this year.

While welcoming calls for cooperation, the Chinese government has publicly said that global warming is largely the responsibility of rich nations, who should provide funds and technologies for developing countries to cut carbon emissions.

Pelosi's delegation included Rep. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and committee chairman; Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin and ranking committee member; Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon; Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington; and Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California.


On the Net:

U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum: cleanenergyforum.net

American Chamber of Commerce in China: www.amcham-china.org.cn

    Pelosi Calls for US-Chinese Climate Cooperation, NYT, 26.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/26/world/AP-AS-China-Pelosi.html






Op-Ed Contributors

Have We Already Lost Iran?


May 24, 2009
The New York Times



PRESIDENT OBAMA’S Iran policy has, in all likelihood, already failed. On its present course, the White House’s approach will not stop Tehran’s development of a nuclear fuel program — or, as Iran’s successful test of a medium-range, solid-fuel missile last week underscored, military capacities of other sorts. It will also not provide an alternative to continued antagonism between the United States and Iran — a posture that for 30 years has proved increasingly damaging to the interests of the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

This judgment may seem both premature and overly severe. We do not make it happily. We voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and we still want him to succeed in reversing the deterioration in America’s strategic position. But we also believe that successful diplomacy with Iran is essential to that end. Unless President Obama and his national security team take a fundamentally different approach to Tehran, they will not achieve a breakthrough.

This is a genuine shame, for President Obama had the potential to do so much better for America’s position in the Middle East. In his greeting to “the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” on the Persian New Year in March, Mr. Obama included language meant to assuage Iranian skepticism about America’s willingness to end efforts to topple the regime and pursue comprehensive diplomacy.

Iranian diplomats have told us that the president’s professed willingness to deal with Iran on the “basis of mutual interest” in an atmosphere of “mutual respect” was particularly well received in Tehran. They say that the quick response of the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — which included the unprecedented statement that “should you change, our behavior will change, too” — was a sincere signal of Iran’s openness to substantive diplomatic proposals from the new American administration.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is backing away from the bold steps required to achieve strategic, Nixon-to-China-type rapprochement with Tehran. Administration officials have professed disappointment that Iranian leaders have not responded more warmly to Mr. Obama’s rhetoric. Many say that the detention of the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi (who was released this month) and Ayatollah Khamenei’s claim last week that America is “fomenting terrorism” inside Iran show that trying to engage Tehran is a fool’s errand.

But this ignores the real reason Iranian leaders have not responded to the new president more enthusiastically: the Obama administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program, begun in President George W. Bush’s second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Iranian government — regardless of who wins the presidential elections on June 12 — will continue to suspect that American intentions toward the Islamic Republic remain, ultimately, hostile.

In this context, the Saberi case should be interpreted not as the work of unspecified “hard-liners” in Tehran out to destroy prospects for improved relations with Washington, but rather as part of the Iranian leadership’s misguided but fundamentally defensive reaction to an American government campaign to bring about regime change. Similarly, Ayatollah Khamenei’s charge that “money, arms and organizations are being used by the Americans directly across our western border to fight the Islamic Republic’s system” reflects legitimate concern about American intentions. Mr. Obama has reinforced this concern by refusing to pursue an American-Iranian “grand bargain” — a comprehensive framework for resolving major bilateral differences and fundamentally realigning relations.

More broadly, President Obama has made several policy and personnel decisions that have undermined the promise of his encouraging rhetoric about Iran. On the personnel front, the problem begins at the top, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As a presidential candidate, then-Senator Clinton ran well to the right of Mr. Obama on Iran, even saying she would “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel. Since becoming secretary of state, Clinton has told a number of allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf that she is skeptical that diplomacy with Iran will prove fruitful and testified to Congress that negotiations are primarily useful to garner support for “crippling” multilateral sanctions against Iran.

First of all, this posture is feckless, as Secretary Clinton does not have broad international support for sanctions that would come anywhere close to being crippling. More significantly, this posture is cynically counterproductive, for it eviscerates the credibility of any American diplomatic overtures in the eyes of Iranian leaders across the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum.

Even more disturbing is President Obama’s willingness to have Dennis Ross become the point person for Iran policy at the State Department. Mr. Ross has long been an advocate of what he describes as an “engagement with pressure” strategy toward Tehran, meaning that the United States should project a willingness to negotiate with Iran largely to elicit broader regional and international support for intensifying economic pressure on the Islamic Republic.

In conversations with Mr. Ross before Mr. Obama’s election, we asked him if he really believed that engage-with-pressure would bring concessions from Iran. He forthrightly acknowledged that this was unlikely. Why, then, was he advocating a diplomatic course that, in his judgment, would probably fail? Because, he told us, if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush’s successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. Citing past “diplomacy” would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate.

Iranian officials are fully aware of Mr. Ross’s views — and are increasingly suspicious that he is determined that the Obama administration make, as one senior Iranian diplomat said to us, “an offer we can’t accept,” simply to gain international support for coercive action.

Understandably, given that much of Mr. Obama’s national security team doesn’t share his vision of rapprochement with Iran, America’s overall policy is incoherent. For example, while the administration recently completed a much-ballyhooed review of Iran policy, it has made no changes in its approach to the nuclear issue. Administration officials argue, with what seem to be straight faces, that the Iranian leadership should be impressed simply because American representatives will now show up for any nuclear negotiations with Iran that might take place.

Similarly, some officials suggest that the administration might be prepared to accept limited uranium enrichment on Iranian soil as part of a settlement — effectively asking to be given “credit” merely for acknowledging a well-established reality. Based on our own experience negotiating with Iranians, and our frequent discussions with Iranian diplomats and political figures since leaving the government, we think that it will take a lot more to persuade Tehran of America’s new seriousness.

Tehran will certainly not be persuaded of American seriousness if Washington acquiesces to Israeli insistence on a deadline for successful American engagement with Iran. Although the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, had told reporters that no such deadline would be imposed, President Obama himself said, after his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, that he wants to see “progress” in nuclear negotiations before the end of the year. He also endorsed the creation of a high-level Israeli-American working group to identify more coercive options if Iran does not meet American conditions for limiting its nuclear activities.

More specifically, Secretary Clinton and Mr. Ross have been pushing the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany to intensify multilateral sanctions against Iran if Tehran has not agreed to limit the expansion of its nuclear-fuel cycle program by the time the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York at the end of September.

This diplomatic approach is guaranteed to fail. Having a deadline for successful negotiations will undercut the perceived credibility of American diplomacy in Tehran and serve only to prepare the way for more coercive measures. Mr. Obama’s justification for a deadline — that previous American-Iranian negotiations produced “a lot of talk but not always action and follow-through” — is incorrect as far as Iranian behavior was concerned. For example, during talks over Afghanistan after 9/11 in which one of us (Hillary) took part, Tehran deported hundreds of Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had sought sanctuary in Iran, and also helped establish the new Afghan government. It was Washington, not Tehran, that arbitrarily ended these productive talks.

Beyond the nuclear issue, the administration’s approach to Iran degenerates into an only slightly prettified version of George W. Bush’s approach — that is, an effort to contain a perceived Iranian threat without actually trying to resolve underlying political conflicts. Obama administration officials are buying into a Bush-era delusion: that concern about a rising Iranian threat could unite Israel and moderate Arab states in a grand alliance under Washington’s leadership.

President Obama and his team should not be excused for their failure to learn the lessons of recent history in the Middle East — that the prospect of strategic cooperation with Israel is profoundly unpopular with Arab publics and that even moderate Arab regimes cannot sustain such cooperation. The notion of an Israeli-moderate Arab coalition united to contain Iran is not only delusional, it would leave the Palestinian and Syrian-Lebanese tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict unresolved and prospects for their resolution in free fall. These tracks cannot be resolved without meaningful American interaction with Iran and its regional allies, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Why has President Obama put himself in a position from which he cannot deliver on his own professed interest in improving relations with the Islamic Republic? Some diplomatic veterans who have spoken with him have told us that the president said that he did not realize, when he came to office, how “hard” the Iran problem would be. But what is hard about the Iran problem is not periodic inflammatory statements from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or episodes like Ms. Saberi’s detention. What is really hard is that getting America’s Iran policy “right” would require a president to take positions that some allies and domestic constituencies won’t like.

To fix our Iran policy, the president would have to commit not to use force to change the borders or the form of government of the Islamic Republic. He would also have to accept that Iran will continue enriching uranium, and that the only realistic potential resolution to the nuclear issue would leave Iran in effect like Japan — a nation with an increasingly sophisticated nuclear fuel-cycle program that is carefully safeguarded to manage proliferation risks. Additionally, the president would have to accept that Iran’s relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah will continue, and be willing to work with Tehran to integrate these groups into lasting settlements of the Middle East’s core political conflicts.

It was not easy for President Richard Nixon to discard a quarter-century of failed policy toward the People’s Republic of China and to reorient America’s posture toward Beijing in ways that have served America’s interests extremely well for more than 30 years. That took strategic vision, political ruthlessness and personal determination. We hope that President Obama — contrary to his record so far — will soon begin to demonstrate those same qualities in forging a new approach toward Iran.


Flynt Leverett directs the New America Foundation’s geopolitics of energy initiative and teaches at Penn State’s School of International Affairs. Hillary Mann Leverett is the president of a political risk consultancy. Both are former National Security Council staff members.

    Have We Already Lost Iran?, NYT, 24.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/opinion/24leverett.html






US Makes Overture to Cuba on Legal Immigration


May 23, 2009
Filed at 3:50 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is making another overture to Cuba, asking the island's communist government to resume talks that his predecessor halted on legal immigration of Cubans to the United States.

Obama's proposal would reopen discussions that had been closed off by former President George W. Bush since they were last held in mid-2003. His move comes ahead of the United States' attendance at a high-level meeting early next month of the Organization of American States, where Cuba's possible re-entry into the regional bloc will be discussed.

The State Department said Friday it had proposed restarting the talks to ''reaffirm both sides' commitment to safe, legal and orderly migration, to review trends in illegal Cuban migration to the United States and to improve operational relations with Cuba on migration issues.''

In April, Obama decided to rescind restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans with family there and on the amount of money they can send to their relatives on the island.

Obama ''wants to ensure that we are doing all we can to support the Cuban people in fulfilling their desire to live in freedom,'' Darla Jordan, a department spokeswoman, said Friday. ''He will continue to make policy decisions accordingly.''

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will attend the June 2 meeting in Honduras, told lawmakers this past week that the U.S. would not support Cuba's membership in the organization until and unless President Raul Castro's regime makes democratic reforms and releases political prisoners.

She and Obama have also said that broader engagement with Cuba, including the possible lifting of the U.S. embargo on the island, is dependent on such steps.

There was no immediate reaction from the Cuban government on Friday, but communist officials were angered when the Bush administration decided to scuttle the talks on grounds they were not crucial for monitoring agreements aimed at preventing a mass exodus from the island.

In Miami on Friday, the influential Cuban American National Foundation welcomed the news, saying resumed migration talks could be ''an opportunity to resolve issues of United States national interest.''

However, three Cuban-American members of Congress from Florida denounced the move as ''another unilateral concession by the Obama administration to the dictatorship.''

''The United States suspended the 'migration talks' with the Cuban dictatorship in January 2004 because the Cuban regime refused to comply with basic aspects of the Migration Accord of 1995,'' Republican Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, his brother Mario and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said in a statement. ''The Cuban regime continues to violate the accord by denying hundreds of exit permits annually to Cuban nationals who have received visas to enter the United States. The Obama administration should first insist that the Castro dictatorship complies with the accord before renewing 'talks.'''

The twice-yearly meetings in alternating countries had been the highest level contacts between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations.

The suspension of the talks occurred during an especially prickly period during which then-president Fidel Castro publicly criticizing James Cason, at the time head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, as a ''bully'' and Washington condemning Havana for a crackdown that rounded up 75 dissidents and sentenced them to long prison terms.

The talks were created so the countries could track adherence to 1994 and 1995 accords designed to promote legal, orderly migration between the two countries. The aim was to avoid a repeat of the summer of 1994, when tens of thousands of Cubans took to the sea in flimsy boats.


Associated Press writer Anita Snow in Havana contributed to this report.

    US Makes Overture to Cuba on Legal Immigration, NYT, 23.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/23/us/politics/AP-US-US-Cuba.html






Obama Prods Netanyahu, Iran in Mideast Foray


May 19, 2009
Filed at 12:38 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Monday opened his deepest foray into the Middle East quagmire, telling Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu he must stop Jewish settlements and should grasp a ''historic opportunity'' to make peace with the Palestinians.

Obama also had pointed words for Iran on a second major Mideast dispute, warning the Iranians they had until year's end to get serious about talks with the world community on curbing their nuclear ambitions. ''We're not going to have talks forever,'' the president said.

Obama and Netanyahu spoke highly of their hopes for progress in the Mideast after a lengthy private meeting in the Israeli's first visit to the White House since Obama became president and Netanyahu began his second stint as prime minister. Yet the new president was firm in insisting the Israelis move toward peace with the Palestinians, and Netanyahu stuck to his stance that Israel cannot negotiate with people who deny its right to exist.

The two leaders found fruitful grounds for agreement on Iran.

Israel is deeply concerned about Iran's perceived attempts to build a nuclear weapon, believing the virulently anti-Israeli regime might naturally target the Jewish state the lies in easy range of Tehran's missile technology.

Beyond that, the Iranians have been a key sponsor of anti-Israeli Islamic militants who refuse -- as does Tehran -- to accept Israel's existence. Most dangerously, the Iranian-funded and armed Hamas organization currently runs the Gaza Strip, while Hezbollah, the other Iranian proxy, has historically harassed Israel with rocket attacks from Lebanon on the north.

The Bush administration diplomatically bludgeoned Iran over its nuclear efforts but refused to formally engage the Islamic government in Tehran. Obama, deeply concerned that a nuclear-armed Iran could spark an arms race in the Middle East and deepen the threat to Israeli security, has changed course and seeks to engage the Iranians in direct talks.

So far there has been no positive Iranian response. Obama said he assumed the country's leadership was distracted with its presidential election campaign but thought he would be able to gauge Iranian seriousness in the coming months.

''We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties involved are making progress and that there's a good-faith effort to resolve differences,'' the president said.

Iran insists its nuclear program is intended solely for civilian electricity generation.

With Netanyahu at his side, Obama said he had told the new Israeli leader during more than two-hours of talks that his government must move quickly to resume peace talks with the Palestinians and had insisted negotiations start from a previous agreement on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

''We have seen progress stalled on this front, and I suggested to the prime minister that he has a historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure,'' Obama said. ''That means that all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they have previously agreed to.''

Obama told reporters that serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians would be possible only if Netanyahu ordered an end to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, land that would make up the Palestinian state along with the Gaza Strip.

''There is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements; that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward,'' Obama said, referring to past negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Netanyahu said he was ready to resume peace talks with the Palestinians immediately but he also said any agreement depended on their acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. It was not immediately clear in the way he phrased the response whether Netanyahu was demanding that as a precondition for talks.

''There's never been a time when Arabs and Israelis see a common threat the way we see it today,'' Netanyahu said, speaking of a sense of urgency felt throughout the Arab world about Iran's nuclear program.

The Israeli leader did not respond publicly to Obama's demand on an end to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and refused again to say he was ready to negotiate a so-called two-state solution to the nearly 60-year dispute with the Palestinians. The plan, endorsed by the United States and other parties pushing for peace between the historic foes, calls for establishment of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

Palestinians offered praise for Obama but expressed disappointment with Netanyahu's remarks.

Netanyahu ''did not mention a commitment to a two-state solution, and we need to see American action against this policy,'' said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who visits the White House on May 28.

Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, issue a similar assessment:

''Mr. Netanyahu failed to mention the two-state solution, signed agreements and the commitment to stop settlement activity. He said he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves. The question to Mr. Netanyahu is, 'How can I govern myself while your occupation continues everywhere in the West Bank and Gaza, and how can I govern myself under your wall, roadblocks and settlement activities?'''


AP writers Amy Teibel, traveling with Netanyahu, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, the West Bank, and Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

    Obama Prods Netanyahu, Iran in Mideast Foray, NYT, 19.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/19/us/politics/AP-US-US-Israel.html






Pakistan Strife Raises U.S. Doubts on Nuclear Arms


May 4, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.

The officials emphasized that there was no reason to believe that the arsenal, most of which is south of the capital, Islamabad, faced an imminent threat. President Obama said last week that he remained confident that keeping the country’s nuclear infrastructure secure was the top priority of Pakistan’s armed forces.

But the United States does not know where all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites are located, and its concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district 60 miles from the capital. The spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe.

Pakistani officials have continued to deflect American requests for more details about the location and security of the country’s nuclear sites, the officials said.

Some of the Pakistani reluctance, they said, stemmed from longstanding concern that the United States might be tempted to seize or destroy Pakistan’s arsenal if the insurgency appeared about to engulf areas near Pakistan’s nuclear sites. But they said the most senior American and Pakistani officials had not yet engaged on the issue, a process that may begin this week, with President Asif Ali Zardari scheduled to visit Mr. Obama in Washington on Wednesday.

“We are largely relying on assurances, the same assurances we have been hearing for years,” said one senior official who was involved in the dialogue with Pakistan during the Bush years, and remains involved today. “The worse things get, the more strongly they hew to the line, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got it under control.’ ”

In public, the administration has only hinted at those concerns, repeating the formulation that the Bush administration used: that it has faith in the Pakistani Army.

“I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday, “primarily, initially, because the Pakistani Army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands.” He added: “We’ve got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation.”

But that cooperation, according to officials who would not speak for attribution because of the sensitivity surrounding the exchanges between Washington and Islamabad, has been sharply limited when the subject has turned to the vulnerabilities in the Pakistani nuclear infrastructure. The Obama administration inherited from President Bush a multiyear, $100 million secret American program to help Pakistan build stronger physical protections around some of those facilities, and to train Pakistanis in nuclear security.

But much of that effort has now petered out, and American officials have never been permitted to see how much of the money was spent, the facilities where the weapons are kept or even a tally of how many Pakistan has produced. The facility Pakistan was supposed to build to conduct its own training exercises is running years behind schedule.

Administration officials would not say if the subject would be raised during Mr. Zardari’s first meeting with Mr. Obama. But even if Mr. Obama raises the subject, it is not clear how fruitful the conversation might be.

Mr. Zardari heads the country’s National Command Authority, the mix of political, military and intelligence leaders responsible for its arsenal of 60 to 100 nuclear weapons. But in reality, his command and control over the weapons are considered tenuous at best; that power lies primarily in the hands of the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former director of Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s intelligence agency.

For years the Pakistanis have waved away the recurring American concerns, with the head of nuclear security for the country, Gen. Khalid Kidwai, dismissing them as “overblown rhetoric.”

Americans who are experts on the Pakistani system worry about what they do not know. “For years I was concerned about the weapons materials in Pakistan, the materials in the laboratories,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who ran the Energy Department’s intelligence unit until January, and before that was a senior C.I.A. officer sent to Pakistan to determine whether nuclear technology had been passed to Osama bin Laden.

“I’m still worried about that, but with what we’re seeing, I’m growing more concerned about something going missing in transport,” said Mr. Mowatt-Larssen, who is now at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Several current officials said that they were worried that insurgents could try to provoke an incident that would prompt Pakistan to move the weapons, and perhaps use an insider with knowledge of the transportation schedule for weapons or materials to tip them off. That concern appeared to be what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was hinting at in testimony 10 days ago before the House Appropriations Committee. Pakistan’s weapons, she noted, “are widely dispersed in the country.”

“There’s not a central location, as you know,” she added. “They’ve adopted a policy of dispersing their nuclear weapons and facilities.” She went on to describe a potential situation in which a confrontation with India could prompt a Pakistani response, though she did not go as far as saying that such a response could include moving weapons toward India — which American officials believed happened in 2002. Other experts note that even as Pakistan faces instability, it is producing more plutonium for new weapons, and building more production reactors.

David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security wrote in a recent report documenting the progress of those facilities, “In the current climate, with Pakistan’s leadership under duress from daily acts of violence by insurgent Taliban forces and organized political opposition, the security of any nuclear material produced in these reactors is in question.” The Pakistanis, not surprisingly, dismiss those fears as American and Indian paranoia, intended to dissuade them from nuclear modernization. But the government’s credibility is still colored by the fact that it used equal vehemence to denounce as fabrications the reports that Abdul Qadeer Khan, one of the architects of Pakistan’s race for the nuclear bomb, had sold nuclear technology on the black market.

In the end, those reports turned out to be true.

    Pakistan Strife Raises U.S. Doubts on Nuclear Arms, NYT, 4.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/world/asia/04nuke.html?hp






Pakistan’s Islamic Schools Fill Void, but Fuel Militancy


May 4, 2009
The New York Times


MOHRI PUR, Pakistan — The elementary school in this poor village is easy to mistake for a barn. It has a dirt floor and no lights, and crows swoop through its glassless windows. Class size recently hit 140, spilling students into the courtyard.

But if the state has forgotten the children here, the mullahs have not. With public education in a shambles, Pakistan’s poorest families have turned to madrasas, or Islamic schools, that feed and house the children while pushing a more militant brand of Islam than was traditional here.

The concentration of madrasas here in southern Punjab has become an urgent concern in the face of Pakistan’s expanding insurgency. The schools offer almost no instruction beyond the memorizing of the Koran, creating a widening pool of young minds that are sympathetic to militancy.

In an analysis of the profiles of suicide bombers who have struck in Punjab, the Punjab police said more than two-thirds had attended madrasas.

“We are at the beginning of a great storm that is about to sweep the country,” said Ibn Abduh Rehman, who directs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent organization. “It’s red alert for Pakistan.”

President Obama said in a news conference last week that he was “gravely concerned” about the situation in Pakistan, not least because the government did not “seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people.”

He has asked Congress to more than triple assistance to Pakistan for nonmilitary purposes, including education. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has given Pakistan a total of $680 million in nonmilitary aid, according to the State Department, far lower than the $1 billion a year for the military.

But education has never been a priority here, and even Pakistan’s current plan to double education spending next year might collapse as have past efforts, which were thwarted by sluggish bureaucracies, unstable governments and a lack of commitment by Pakistan’s governing elite to the poor.

“This is a state that never took education seriously,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution. “I’m very pessimistic about whether the educational system can or will be reformed.”

Pakistani families have long turned to madrasas, and the religious schools make up a relatively small minority. But even for the majority who attend public school, learning has an Islamic bent. The national curriculum was Islamized during the 1980s under Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, a military ruler who promoted Pakistan’s Islamic identity as a way to bind its patchwork of tribes, ethnicities and languages.

Literacy in Pakistan has grown from barely 20 percent at independence 61 years ago, and the government recently improved the curriculum and reduced its emphasis on Islam.


Failures in Education

But even today, only about half of Pakistanis can read and write, far below the proportion in countries with similar per-capita income, like Vietnam. One in three school-age Pakistani children does not attend school, and of those who do, a third drop out by fifth grade, according to Unesco. Girls’ enrollment is among the lowest in the world, lagging behind Ethiopia and Yemen.

“Education in Pakistan was left to the dogs,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad who is an outspoken critic of the government’s failure to stand up to spreading Islamic militancy.

This impoverished expanse of rural southern Punjab, where the Taliban have begun making inroads with the help of local militant groups, has one of the highest concentrations of madrasas in the country.

Of the more than 12,000 madrasas registered in Pakistan, about half are in Punjab. Experts estimate the numbers are higher: when the state tried to count them in 2005, a fifth of the areas in this province refused to register.

Though madrasas make up only about 7 percent of primary schools in Pakistan, their influence is amplified by the inadequacy of public education and the innate religiosity of the countryside, where two-thirds of people live.

The public elementary school for boys in this village is the very picture of the generations of neglect that have left many poor Pakistanis feeling abandoned by their government.

Shaukat Ali, 40, a tall man with an earnest manner who teaches fifth grade, said he had asked everyone for help with financing, including government officials and army officers. A television channel even did a report. “The result,” he said, “was zero.”

A government official responsible for monitoring schools in the area, Muhamed Aijaz Anjum, said he was familiar with the school’s plight. But he has no car or office, and his annual travel allowance is less than $200; he said he was helpless to do anything about it.

With few avenues for advancement in what remains a feudal society, many poor Pakistanis do not believe education will improve their lives. The dropout rate reflects that.

One of Mr. Ali’s best students, Muhamed Arshad Ali, was offered a state scholarship to continue after the fifth grade. His parents would not let him accept. He quit and took up work ironing pants for about 200 rupees a day, or $2.50.

“Many poor people think salaried jobs are only for rich people,” Mr. Ali said. “They don’t believe in the end result of education.”


Safety Net From Despair

In Punjab, the country’s most populous province, the despair and neglect have opened a space that religious schools have filled.

“Madrasas have been mushrooming,” said Zobaida Jalal, a member of Parliament and former education minister.

The phenomenon began in the 1980s, when General Zia gave madrasas money and land in an American-supported policy to help Islamic fighters against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

The Islamic schools are also seen as employment opportunities. “When someone doesn’t see a way ahead for himself, he builds a mosque and sits in it,” said Jan Sher, whose village in southwestern Punjab, Shadan Lund, has become a militant stronghold, with madrasas now outnumbering public schools. Poverty has also helped expand enrollment in madrasas, which serve as a safety net by housing and feeding poor children.

“How can someone who earns 200 rupees a day afford expenses for five children?” asked Hafeezur Rehman, a caretaker in the Jamia Sadiqqia Taleemul Koran madrasa in Multan, the main city in south Punjab. The school houses and feeds 73 boys from poor villages.

Former President Pervez Musharraf tried to regulate the madrasas, offering financial incentives if they would add general subjects. But after taking the money, many refused to allow monitoring. “The madrasa reform project failed,” said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired general who served as education minister at the time.

Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, says he is acutely aware of the problem and is trying a different approach, recently setting aside $75 million to build free model schools in 80 locations close to large madrasas, a tactic General Qazi had also proposed.

In the district that includes Mohri Pur, a mud-walled village of about 6,000 where farmers drive on dirt roads in tractors and donkey carts piled high with sticks and grasses, there are an estimated 200 madrasas, one-third the number of public schools, said Mr. Anjum, the education official.

Nonreligious private schools have also sprouted since the 1990s. They have better student-teacher ratios, but only the most exclusive — out of reach of most middle-class Pakistanis — offer a rigorous, modern education. Mr. Ali, the fifth-grade teacher, says the madrasas have changed Mohri Pur. They are Deobandi, adherents of an ultra-Orthodox Sunni school of thought that opposes music and festivals, which are central aspects of Sufism, a tolerant form of Islam that is traditional here.

There were no madrasas in Mohri Pur in the late 1980s, when Mr. Ali began teaching. Now there are at least five. Most are affiliated with a branch in the neighboring town of Kabirwala of Darul Uloom, a powerful Deobandi seminary founded in 1952, and whose leaders in other parts of Pakistan have links to the Taliban.


Fear and Respect

Several local residents said they believed the Kabirwala seminary was dangerous. Some of its members were involved in sectarian violence against Shiites in the 1990s, they said.

Even if the madrasas do not make militants, they create a worldview that makes militancy possible. “The mindset wants to stop music, girls’ schools and festivals,” said Salman Abid, a social researcher in southern Punjab. “Their message is that this is not real life. Real life comes later” — after death.

On a recent Thursday, the Kabirwala seminary was buzzing with activity. Officials showed rooms of boys crouched over Korans, reading and rocking. A full kitchen had an industrial-size bread oven. Flowers adorned walkways. The foundation for a new dormitory had been broken.

There was also a girls’ section, with its own entrance, where hundreds of young women chanted in unison after directions from a male voice that came from behind a curtain. “We have a passion for this work,” said Seraj ul-Haq, a computer teacher who is part of the family that founded the seminary. Teachers preach restrictions. February’s newsletter set out a list of taboos: Valentine’s Day. Music. Urban women “wearing imported perfume.” Talking about women’s rights.

Suicide bombings were neither encouraged nor condemned.

The ideology may be rigid, but it offers the promise of respect, a powerful draw for lower-class young men.

Abed Omar, 24, had little religious education before he was inspired by a sermon at the seminary last year. Better educated than most, he began to work in his family’s sweets shop.

Restless and unfulfilled, he joined a conservative Islamic group, paying about $625 to travel with them around the country for four months on a preaching tour. The group, Tablighi Jamaat, taught him that Islam forbids music and speaking with women. (He would speak to this reporter only through a male colleague.) American officials suspect that the group is a steppingstone to the Taliban. Pakistani officials say it is peaceful.

Now, when Mr. Omar visits his friends, “they turn off their tape players and give me their seat,” he said, a smile lifting his face, which, in the practice of some conservative Islamists, has a bushy beard but no mustache.

He is frustrated by a lack of opportunity and at how much of Pakistan’s bureaucracy requires political connections, which he does not have. “There is no merit,” he said. His faith gives him hope. “I want to make everyone a preacher of Islam,” Mr. Omar said brightly, eating honey-soaked fritters in his family’s shop.

He knows about 100 people in his town who have done a four-month tour like his. As for those who sign up for less, he said “they are countless.”


Waqar Gillani contributed reporting from Mohri Pur and Lahore, Pakistan.

    Pakistan’s Islamic Schools Fill Void, but Fuel Militancy, NYT, 4.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/world/asia/04schools.html?hp






Clinton: Pakistan Realizing Threat From Insurgents


April 23, 2009
Filed at 11:22 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pakistan is beginning to recognize the severity of the threat posed by an extremist insurgency that is encroaching on key urban areas, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

Clinton told a House appropriations subcommittee that the Obama administration is working to persuade the Pakistani government that its traditional focus on India as a threat has to shift to Islamic extremists.

''Changing paradigms and mind-sets is not easy, but I do believe there is an increasing awareness of not just the Pakistani government but the Pakistani people that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat,'' she said.

On Wednesday, Clinton told another House committee that in her view the Pakistani government is ''basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists.''

She said Thursday that the administration's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has had ''painful, specific'' conversations with a wide range of Pakistanis about the need to act more effectively against the insurgents.

''There is a significant opportunity here for us working in collaboration with the Pakistani government to help them get the support they need to make that mind-set change and act more vigorously against this threat,'' she said, adding, ''There are no promises. They have to do it.''

Clinton encountered skepticism from some committee members who expressed doubt about succeeding in Pakistan. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., told her he worries that the administration's policy agenda -- domestic and foreign -- could be ''devoured'' by the Pakistan-Afghanistan problem.

''I have absolutely no confidence in the ability of the existing Pakistan government to do one blessed thing,'' Obey said.

One measure of progress in Pakistan, Clinton said, is the extent to which the Pakistani military is shifting its troops from the Indian border to the Afghan border, where the Taliban threat has been expanding.

Clinton was appearing before the appropriations panel that is reviewing the administration's request for $7.1 billion in additional funds for the State Department this budget year. Of that total, $497 million would be for State Department support of Pakistan and $980 million would be for Afghanistan. About $482 million would be for Iraq.

Clinton said that local job creation is a key purpose of the extra funds requested for State Department work in Afghanistan.

She told the panel that a main goal is to improve security at the local level in Afghanistan by putting more people to work. And she said the administration believes that many in the Taliban insurgency who are fighting against U.S. and Afghan forces are motivated more by money than ideology.

Clinton defended President Barack Obama's effort to engage diplomatically with Iran, calling it a reasonable alternative to what she called a failed Bush administration policy.

''We tried the policy of total isolation for eight years,'' she said in a rising voice, ''and it did not deter Iran one bit. The nuclear program has continued unabated. They weren't supporting Hamas before. They are supporting Hamas now.''

    Clinton: Pakistan Realizing Threat From Insurgents, NYT, 23.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/04/23/us/politics/AP-US-Clinton.html