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


 

 

Anthony Russo

Voices Across the Mideast Divide

NYT

16.9.2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/opinion/l16mideast.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba Detains a U.S. Contractor

 

December 12, 2009
The New York Times
By MARC LACEY and GINGER THOMPSON

 

HAVANA — A United States government contract worker, who was distributing cellphones, laptops and other communications equipment in Cuba on behalf of the Obama administration, has been detained by the authorities here, American officials said Friday.

The officials said the contractor, who works for a company based in the Washington suburbs, was detained Dec. 5. They said the United States Interests Section in Havana was awaiting Cuba’s response to a request for consular access to the man, who was not identified.

The detention and the mysterious circumstances surrounding it threaten to reignite tensions between the countries at a time when both had promised to open new channels of engagement. American officials said they were encouraged that the Cubans had not publicized the detention, and they said they were hopeful that he might be quietly released.

Cuba has allowed more citizens than ever to buy cellphones and computers, but even the limited access to digital technology that is available has created problems for the government. Cuban officials have shown particular concern about Yoani Sánchez, a prominent government critic who keeps in touch with thousands of followers with a blog and a Twitter account.

Recently, the Cuban government denied Ms. Sánchez a visa to accept a prestigious journalism award in New York. President Obama has also made a guest appearance on her blog, sending written answers to questions she submitted to him.

American programs to promote democracy in Cuba have also been the focus of intense debate in the United States. A 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly all of the $74 million that the United States Agency for International Development spent on contracts to foster democracy in Cuba over the previous decade had been distributed, without competitive bidding or oversight, to Cuban-exile organizations in Miami rather than groups in Cuba itself.

Groups financed by the program, the G.A.O. found, made questionable purchases, including cashmere sweaters and Godiva chocolates.

In 2008, the Bush administration sought to overhaul the program, promising to award contracts to groups beyond those in Florida and to devote most of the budget to buying communications equipment to help expand Cubans’ access to information.

The detention of the unidentified American contractor, some Cuba experts said, demonstrated that President Raúl Castro of Cuba had not abandoned the hard-line tactics used for years by his older brother, Fidel, to stifle dissent.

“Under Cuba’s draconian laws,” said José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch, “even the act of handing out cellphones to government critics can be considered a crime.”

Still, Mr. Vivanco and others said that the contractor’s covert conduct — which included entering Cuba on a tourist visa without proper documents — also raised questions about whether Mr. Obama would fulfill his promise to break with the confrontational tactics that Washington has employed toward Havana for five decades.

“President Obama’s been different in some areas,” said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert and a vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. “But most of his policy remains the Bush policy, and this is just another example of that.”

The detainee, officials said, was employed by Development Alternatives Inc., which had at least $391,000 in government contracts last year. Based in Bethesda, Md., the company is a kind of do-it-all development company that provides services to the United States government in countries around the world.

Company officials did not respond Friday to requests for comment. On its Web site, the company describes the breadth of its activities, saying, “We help hillside farmers raise their incomes in Haiti, strengthen the credit system for Moroccan entrepreneurs, harmonize natural resource use in the Philippines, mitigate conflict in Liberia, and foster responsive local governments in Serbia.”

It was unclear exactly what the company’s employee was doing at the time he was detained.

Cellphones and computers are available for sale in Cuba, prompting some to question why Cuba decided to crack down on an activity that has long been treated as more of an annoyance than a crime. When it comes to satellite phones, however, the Cubans have taken a far harder line.

Mr. Obama had promised a more open relationship with Cuba, announcing not long after taking office that he would lift restrictions on travel to Cuba for Americans with relatives on the island. He has expanded cultural and academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba. And he began high-level talks on migration, drug trafficking and postal services with the Cuban authorities, discussions that President Bush had halted.

But in recent weeks relations seem to have hit a new stalemate, with Mr. Obama signaling that he was reluctant to create more diplomatic openings until Cuban officials demonstrated a willingness to address the country’s poor human rights record.

Ricardo Alarcón, the speaker of Cuba’s National Assembly, said he had heard nothing about the detention of the American. He termed the policy changes instituted so far by Mr. Obama as “minor” and described the White House as too distracted by other issues to focus attention on Cuba.

“You have two wars,” he said. “You have the economy. You have the debate on health care. It is clear to me that the administration is not prepared at this moment to give a priority to the relationship with Cuba.”

Congress is considering bills that would lift restrictions on travel to Cuba for all Americans. Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, added his name last week to a long list of co-sponsors of the measure.

 

Marc Lacey reported from Havana, and Ginger Thompson from Washington. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

    Cuba Detains a U.S. Contractor, NYT, 12.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/world/americas/12cuba.html

 

 

 

 

 

Editorial

Assessing the China Trip

 

November 21, 2009
The New York Times

 

President Obama has faced a fair amount of criticism for his China trip. He was too deferential; he didn’t speak out enough on human rights; he failed to press Beijing firmly on revaluing its currency; he achieved no concrete results. The trip wasn’t all that we had hoped it would be, but some of the complaints are premature.

The trip was a template for rising American anxieties about the rising Asian power. President Obama went into his meetings with President Hu Jintao with a weaker hand than most recent American leaders — and it showed. He is still trying to restore the country’s moral authority and a battered economy dependent on Chinese lending. Yet the United States needs China’s cooperation on important and difficult problems, including stabilizing the global financial system, curbing global warming, persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program and preventing Iran from building any nuclear weapons.

On the positive side, the two leaders hinted in a joint statement that there may have been enough agreement on climate change to give momentum to the Copenhagen negotiations. An American government source said there also may have been some unannounced progress on North Korea.

But publicly, Mr. Obama pulled his punches on China’s exchange rate, saying only that Beijing had promised previously to move toward a more market-oriented rate over time. Despite its indebtedness, the United States has the world’s largest economy; Mr. Obama should have nudged Beijing to move faster. We hope he did so privately.

We were especially disappointed that China made no discernible move to join with the United States and other major powers in threatening tougher sanctions if Iran fails to make progress on curbing its nuclear weapons program. President Obama should have made clear in his private talks that the United States and Europe will act anyway if Beijing and Moscow block United Nations Security Council action.

It was also dispiriting that Mr. Obama agreed to allow China to limit his public appearances so markedly. Questions were not permitted at the so-called press conference with Mr. Hu, and his town hall meeting with future Chinese leaders in Shanghai not only had a Potemkin air, it was not even broadcast live in China. It’s obvious that the last thing Mr. Hu wanted was to get questions about issues like his brutal repression in Tibet and Xinjiang. That doesn’t explain Mr. Obama’s acquiescence in such restrictions.

Mr. Obama did not meet with Chinese liberals. In Shanghai, he spoke of the need for an uncensored Internet and universal rights for all people, including Chinese, and at the press conference he called for dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. He delayed a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the China summit and should schedule it soon.

President Obama was elected in part because he promised a more cooperative and pragmatic leadership in world affairs. We support that. The measure of the success (or failure) of his approach won’t be known for months, and we hope it bears fruit. But the American president must always be willing to stand up to Beijing in defense of core American interests and values.

    Assessing the China Trip, NYT, 21.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/21/opinion/21sat1.html

 

 

 

 

 

News Analysis

Obama’s Pacific Trip Encounters Rough Waters

 

November 19, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and MARTIN FACKLER

 

SEOUL, South Korea — For all of President Obama’s laying claim to the title of “America’s first Pacific president,” Asia was always going to be a tough nut for him to crack.

Without the first lady at his side, he would not have the kind of round-the-clock coverage the first couple got during their inaugural tour of Europe.

Without a popular gesture like elevating the plight of the Palestinian people to equal status of the Israelis, he would not be showered with the kind of praise he got for his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.

And without a stop in Indonesia, his boyhood home, he would not bask in the kind of adulation he received in Accra, Ghana.

Instead, with the novelty of a visit as America’s first black president having given way to the reality of having to plow through intractable issues like monetary policy (China), trade (Singapore, China, South Korea), security (Japan) and the 800-pound gorilla on the continent (China), Mr. Obama’s Asia trip has been, in many ways, a long, uphill slog.

So it is no wonder that on the last day of the toughest part of his trip — the China part — Mr. Obama took a hike: a brisk, bracing 30-minute climb up the Great Wall. Around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Obama’s mile-long motorcade arrived at the Badaling section of the Great Wall, which snakes over jagged, rocky mountains.

Visitors to that touristy section of the wall generally encounter a cacophonous melee of vendors, but on this day, the place was like a ghost town, courtesy of the Chinese authorities who had shut it down. (The same thing happened Tuesday when Mr. Obama sped through an empty-but-for-his-entourage Forbidden City.)

Even the two sightseeing trips did not offer a total respite, however, as they were prominent, well-publicized examples of what Mr. Obama did not do in China. He steered clear of public meetings with Chinese liberals, free press advocates and even average Chinese, with his aides citing scheduling conflicts. Mr. Obama did, though, give an interview on Wednesday morning to Southern Weekly, one of China’s most popular newspapers, sometimes known for poking the authorities by breaking news on delicate subjects.

Still, for an American president who has tried to make openness a hallmark of his public persona, it was a departure, made more stark since Chinese authorities largely hijacked Mr. Obama’s one other attempt at a give and take with Chinese students, a town hall meeting in Shanghai, by stuffing the auditorium with young Communist Party aspirants.

A week ago, when Mr. Obama kicked off his trip in Japan, things were not so grim. Tokyo welcomed him as much as a celebrity as a world leader, with cries of “Obama-san!” from the people who gathered in the rain to watch his motorcade pass. Local newspapers gushed about how he told his Japanese hosts that he wanted to eat tuna and Kobe beef. Even the ballyhoo from right-wing bloggers back at home over Mr. Obama’s deep bow to Emperor Akihito did not seem to dent Mr. Obama’s image in Japan; his aides said he was unfazed by the criticism.

But Mr. Obama quickly discovered that popularity on the Asian streets did not necessarily translate into policy successes behind closed doors in the Kantei, the Japanese White House, let alone in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Political analysts in Japan gave Mr. Obama high marks for what was one of his principal goals: improving communication with Japan’s outspoken new leaders.

But the trip managed only to paper over some of the recent differences between the sides, like the contentious issue of the relocation of an unpopular Marine air base in Futenma, on the southern island of Okinawa. Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama could not solve that issue, instead merely deferring a tough decision by agreeing to form a working group to look at the relocation problem.

One former Japanese diplomat praised the president for showing patience and avoiding mishaps that would have further tarnished the relationship. The former diplomat, Kunihiko Miyake, who now teaches international affairs at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, said the United States and Japan still did not see eye to eye on their single biggest bilateral issue: how to make their cold-war-era alliance relevant in a region where the balance of power had been upset by China’s rise.

“The two countries are in the same bed, but dreaming different dreams,” Mr. Miyake said. “The Americans want the alliance to be stronger, but the Japanese seem to want to do less.”

Mr. Obama’s next stop was Singapore for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, best known for its quaint custom of making all the leaders wear the same style of colorful shirt, helpfully supplied by the host country. Mr. Obama, in blue, wore a brave grin in the group photo, flanked by the red-shirted Singaporean prime minister and an identical blue-shirted Indonesian president.

This year, APEC made headlines, though not the sort Mr. Obama might have liked. With a deadline looming for a big climate change conference in Copenhagen, the leaders convened a hastily called breakfast meeting to acknowledge that they would not be able to resolve entrenched differences in time.

And then, Mr. Obama departed for China, where the authorities stage-managed and restricted access to his town hall meeting in Shanghai. He did offer a nuanced, oblique critique of China’s rigid controls and restrictions of the Internet and free speech without mentioning, let alone condemning, China’s government.

Mr. Obama and President Hu Jintao presented their two days of talks as substantive, even though they did not appear to make much progress on issues like Iran, China’s currency or human rights. Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, took the unusual step of sending a statement to reporters — something he did not do for either stop in Japan or Singapore — saying the China trip went well.

In Seoul, where Mr. Obama ends his trip, he will have perhaps his easiest leg. South Korea is a longtime ally that has been cooperating with the United States on vital issues like North Korea and does not appear to have any big ax to grind with the United States.

    Obama’s Pacific Trip Encounters Rough Waters, NYT, 19.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/world/asia/19assess.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Takes Stern Tone on North Korea and Iran

 

November 19, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and MARTIN FACKLER

 

SEOUL, South Korea — President Obama delivered a stern message on Thursday to North Korea and Iran that they risk further sanctions and isolation if they do not rein in their nuclear ambitions.

Appearing at a joint press conference with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, Mr. Obama singled out Iran, where leaders have apparently rejected an offer from the West to take Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to another country to turn it into fuel rods, which would buy time for diplomatic negotiations.

“We’ve seen indications that for internal political reasons or perhaps because they are stuck in some of their own rhetoric, they are unable to get to ‘yes,’ ” Mr. Obama said. “As a consequence, we have begun discussion with our international partners” on sanctions, he said.

He said that over the next few weeks the United States would be developing a package of “potential steps we can take that will indicate our seriousness.”

Mr. Obama’s words were his strongest to date and seemed to signal that he was ready to move to sanctions.

On the North, Mr. Obama said he was sending his North Korea envoy to Pyongyang next month for talks designed to try to get the nation back to the bargaining table. But he warned that even getting the North back to the table would not be enough.

“I want to emphasize that President Lee and I both agree on the need to break the pattern that existed in the past in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion, then is willing to return to talks, and then talks for a while, and then leaves the talks and seeks further concessions,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Seoul is the last — and perhaps easiest — leg of an Asia trip in which he was forced to deal with a newly assertive Japan and an increasingly powerful China.

South Korea quickly proved true the predictions that it would be more accommodating to Mr. Obama, with whom Mr. Lee has been cooperating closely on key issues, including efforts to eventually halt North Korea’s nuclear program.

On Thursday morning, the Koreans put on a rousing welcoming ceremony for Mr. Obama. On the terraced lawn in front of the Blue House, the presidential offices in Seoul, a colorful array of ceremonial guardsmen, band members and local children greeted Mr. Obama, playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving American flags.

South Korean government officials and diplomatic analysts said that the visit represented a chance for Seoul to raise its profile with the Obama administration by stressing its reliability as a partner in Asia.

Mr. Lee is more closely aligned with American policy than were his liberal predecessors, who saw President George W. Bush’s tough stance on North Korea as counterproductive, and he was elected on a platform of getting tough with Pyongyang. But Mr. Lee has been criticized by the left for his decision to send more aid workers and a small military contingent to Afghanistan in support of the American-led effort there.

During large antigovernment protests last year over beef imports from the United States — an issue that tapped into an undercurrent of anti-American feelings — Mr. Lee was accused of kowtowing to American leaders. In anticipation of demonstrators this visit, the government says it will deploy about 13,000 police and soldiers.

The only potential point of contention on the visit was that Washington still was not moving to ratify a free-trade agreement agreed upon two years ago. Mr. Obama said that he wanted to get it done but acknowledged that “there is obviously a concern in the United States of the incredible trade imbalances that have grown in the past few years.”

    Obama Takes Stern Tone on North Korea and Iran, NYT, 19.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/world/asia/19prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Presses Karzai on Eve of Inauguration

 

November 19, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER

 

KABUL, Afghanistan — In what amounted to a stern pep talk by a nervous partner, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here on Wednesday to exhort President Hamid Karzai and his government to do a better job of cracking down on corruption in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Clinton’s unannounced visit, on the eve of Mr. Karzai’s inauguration to another term, was meant to send a message of American support for his government, after a chaotic election in which he emerged as the winner after charges of rampant ballot stuffing and other fraud.

Mr. Karzai welcomed Mrs. Clinton to the presidential palace on Wednesday evening, and the secretary of state congratulated him on his reelection. “I’m very energized by being back here and seeing you and a lot of your ministers,” she said in a polite, if somewhat formal, tone.

“Thank you,” he replied with a smile.

But over dinner, and in a subsequent one-on-one session, Mrs. Clinton said she planned to press Mr. Karzai for tangible results in tackling other forms of corruption, which many experts cite as one of the key causes of Afghanistan’s growing insurgency and deteriorating security.

“We are asking that they follow through on much of what they previously said, including putting together a credible anti-corruption governmental entity,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters traveling with her from Beijing, where she had been with President Obama on his tour of Asia.

“They’ve done some work on that, but in our view, not nearly enough to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose to tackle corruption,” she said. “We are concerned about corruption. We obviously think it has an impact on the quality and capacity of governance.”

Mrs. Clinton said she was troubled that Mr. Karzai named as one of his two vice presidents, Marshal Muhammad Fahim, whom American officials believe has been involved in the drug trade, as well as forging a political alliance with General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord suspected of corruption.

“It certainly raises questions,” she said, noting that the United States would wait to see whether Mr. Karzai confronted that issue directly or sought other means to raise confidence in his government.

Still, speaking to employees at the heavily fortified United States embassy, Mrs. Clinton said that the inauguration provided a “window of opportunity” for Mr. Karzai to “make a new compact with the people of Afghanistan” and to create a more accountable government.

“We want to be a strong partner with the government and people of Afghanistan,” she said. “This is a turning point that we will face together.”

In her fourth visit to Afghanistan, and her first as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton seemed to be walking a delicate balance — praising Mr. Karzai for the progress Afghanistan had made during his years in power, even as she signaled the United States was looking for more.

“It’s not all a one-sided negative story,” she said. “It’s much more balanced than that. If President Karzai was sitting here, he would say ‘do you know how hard it’s been to do what I have done for the last eight years?’”

But Mrs. Clinton also reiterated recent comments by White House and other administration officials that United States was seeking a military strategy that would give it a clear way out of Afghanistan.

“We don’t have a long term military stake,” she said. “We’re not seeking to occupy Afghanistan for the undetermined future. We don’t want bases in Afghanistan. We do want to help the Afghan government and people build up their own capacity so they can defend themselves.”

Mrs. Clinton was met at the airport by the two generals — Stanley A. McChrystal and Karl W. Eikenberry — who have staked out opposing positions in the administration’s lengthy, increasingly fierce, internal debate over how many additional American troops to deploy to Afghanistan.

General McChrystal, the current commander in Afghanistan, has recommended that Mr. Obama send up to 40,000 more troops. General Eikenberry, who is the American ambassador, argued in two recent cables that more troops would increase the dependency of Afghanistan on the United States, at a time when the reliability of its leadership was already in doubt.

In a meeting with the generals, a senior administration official said, Mrs. Clinton quizzed the two about how the United States was meshing its military and civilian efforts in the country. She pressed for examples of areas where those efforts were working well, and where there were problems. General McChrystal offered an overview of the broader security situation.

Whatever their differences on strategy, officials said, there was little evidence of friction in the generals’ presentation to Mrs. Clinton. On their assessment of Mr. Karzai’s reliability as a leader, an official said, General McChrystal and General Eikenberry were largely in agreement.

Mrs. Clinton also complimented the growing staff of the embassy for their work, which she said was dangerous but vital to the American effort in Afghanistan. She singled out Matthew Sherman, a Foreign Service officer who rescued soldiers from a vehicle that had been overturned by a roadside explosive.

    Clinton Presses Karzai on Eve of Inauguration, NYT, 19.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/world/asia/19clinton.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama’s Asia Trip: Lots of Problems, Not Much Adulation

 

November 19, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and MARTIN FACKLER

 

SEOUL, South Korea — For all of President Obama’s laying claim to the title of “America’s first Pacific president,” Asia was always going to be a tough nut for him to crack.

Without the first lady at his side, he would not have the kind of round-the-clock coverage the first couple got during their inaugural tour of Europe. Without a popular gesture like elevating the plight of the Palestinian people to equal status of the Israelis’, he would not be showered with the kind of praise he got for his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. And without a stop in his boyhood home of Indonesia, he would not bask in the kind of adulation he received in Accra, Ghana.

Instead, with the novelty of a visit as America’s first black president having given way to the reality of having to plow through intractable issues like monetary policy (China), trade (Singapore, China, South Korea), security (Japan) and the new 800-pound gorilla on the continent (China), Mr. Obama’s Asia trip has been, in many ways, a long uphill slog.

So it is no wonder that on the last day of the toughest part of his trip — the China part — Mr. Obama took a hike: a brisk, bracing 30-minute climb up the Great Wall. At around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Obama’s mile-long motorcade arrived at the Great Wall’s Badaling section, which snaked over jagged, rocky mountains.

Visitors to that touristy section of the wall generally encounter a cacophonous melee of vendors, but on this day, the place was like a ghost town, courtesy of Chinese authorities who had shut it down. (The same happened Tuesday when Mr. Obama sped through an empty-but-for-his-entourage Forbidden City.)

Even the two sightseeing trips did not offer a total respite, however, as they were prominent, well publicized examples of what Mr. Obama did not do in China. He steered clear of public meetings with Chinese liberals, free press advocates and even average Chinese, with his aides citing scheduling conflicts. Mr. Obama did, though, give an interview Wednesday morning to Southern Weekly, one of China’s most popular newspapers, sometimes known for poking the authorities by breaking news on delicate subjects.

Still, for an American president who has tried to make openness a hallmark of his public persona, it was a departure, made more stark since Chinese authorities largely hijacked Mr. Obama’s one other attempt at a give and take with Chinese students, a town hall meeting in Shanghai, by stuffing the auditorium with young Communist Party aspirants.

A week ago, when Mr. Obama kicked off his trip in Japan, things were not so grim. Tokyo welcomed him as much as a celebrity as a world leader, with cries of “Obama-san!” from the people who gathered in the rain to watch his motorcade pass. Local newspapers gushed about how he told his Japanese hosts he wanted to eat tuna and Kobe beef. Even the ballyhoo from right-wing bloggers back at home over Mr. Obama’s deep bow to Emperor Akihito did not seem to dent Mr. Obama’s Japan mojo; his aides say he was unfazed by the criticism.

But Mr. Obama quickly discovered that popularity on the Asian streets does not necessarily translate into policy successes behind closed doors in the Kantei, the Japanese White House, let alone in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Political analysts in Japan gave Mr. Obama high marks for what was one of his principal goals: improving communication with Japan’s outspoken new government. But the trip managed only to paper over some of the recent differences between the sides, like the contentious issue of the relocation of an unpopular Marine air base in Futenman, on the southern island of Okinawa. Mr. Obama and newly elected prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, could not solve that issue, instead merely deferring tough decisions by agreeing to form a working group to look at the relocation problem.

One former Japanese diplomat praised the president for showing patience and avoiding mishaps that would have further tarnished the relationship. The former diplomat, Kunihiko Miyake, who now teaches international affairs at Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University, said the United States and Japan still do not see eye to eye on their single biggest bilateral issue: how to make their cold war-era alliance relevant in a region where the balance of power has been upset by China’s rise.

“The two countries are in the same bed, but dreaming different dreams,” Mr. Miyake said. “The Americans want the alliance to be stronger, but the Japanese seem to want to do less.”

Mr. Obama’s next stop was Singapore for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference best known for its quaint custom of making all the leaders wear the same colorful shirt, helpfully supplied by the host country. Mr. Obama, in blue, wore a brave grin in the group photo, flanked by the red-shirted Singaporean prime minister and an identical blue-shirted Indonesian president.

This year, APEC made headlines, though not the sort Mr. Obama might have liked. With a deadline looming for a big climate change conference in Copenhagen, the leaders convened a hastily-called breakfast meeting to acknowledge that they would not be able to resolve entrenched differences in time.

And then, Mr. Obama departed for China, where the authorities stage-managed and restricted access to his town hall meeting in Shanghai. He did offer a nuanced, oblique critique of China’s rigid controls and restrictions of the Internet and free speech without mentioning, let alone condemning, China’s government.

Mr. Obama and President Hu Jintao presented their two days of talks as substantive, even though they didn’t appear to make much progress on issues like Iran, currency, or human rights. Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, took the unusual step of sending a statement to reporters — something he did not do for either Japan or Singapore — saying the China trip went well.

In Seoul, where Mr. Obama ends his trip, he will have perhaps his easiest leg. South Korea is a longtime ally that has been cooperating with the United States on vital issues like North Korea and does not appear to have any big ax to grind with the United States.

    Obama’s Asia Trip: Lots of Problems, Not Much Adulation, NYT, 19.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/world/asia/19assess.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Skirts Chinese Political Sensitivities in Visit

 

November 18, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL WINES and SHARON LAFRANIERE

 

BEIJING — Whether by White House design or Chinese insistence, President Obama has steered clear of public meetings with Chinese liberals, free press advocates and even ordinary Chinese during his first visit to China, showing deference to the Chinese leadership’s aversions to such interactions that is unusual for a visiting American president.

Mr. Obama held a “town hall” meeting with students on Monday. But they were carefully vetted and prepped for the event by the government, participants said. And the Chinese authorities, wielding a practiced mix of censorship and diplomatic pressure, succeeded in limiting Mr. Obama’s exposure to a point where a third of some 40 Beijing university students interviewed Tuesday were unaware that he had just met in Shanghai with their colleagues.

Some students who were aware cast him in terms rarely applied to American leaders, such as “rather humble,” and “bland.” “Is America being capricious because their economic difficulties force them to be nicer to China and other countries, or is this a genuine change?” asked Liu Ziqi, 18, a freshman at the University of International Business and Economics. “I don’t know.”This is no longer the United States-China relationship of old, but an encounter between a weakened giant and a comer with a bit of its own swagger. Washington’s comparative advantage in past meetings is now diminished, a fact clearly not lost on the Chinese.

Human rights is everyone’s is the prime example. In 1998, President Bill Clinton staged a nationally broadcast discussion with then-President Jiang Zemin about human rights, the Dalai Lama and perhaps China’s most taboo topic, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. In 2002, President George W. Bush stressed liberty, rule of law and faith in a speech to university students broadcast across China.

When Mr. Obama himself visited Moscow in July, he met with opposition political activists and journalists, and publicly questioned the prosecution of an anti-Kremlin businessman.

In China, by contrast, Mr. Obama’s nuanced references to rights have shied from citing China’s spotty record, even when offered the chance. Asked Monday in Shanghai to discuss China’s censorship of the Internet, the president replied by talking about America’s robust political debates.

American scholars and activists, who demanded anonymity for fear of damaging relations with the White House, say the administration rejected proposals for brief meetings in Beijing with Chinese political activists, and then with lawyers.

American officials did consider organizing meetings between Mr. Obama and Chinese lawyers, university students in Beijing and Hu Shuli, a well-known Chinese journalist who recently ceded control Caijing, one of the nation’s most respected and independent magazines. But officials say time constraints, not political considerations, sidelined those options, although the sightseeing agenda remained intact.

One prominent defense lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said Tuesday that an American official called this month to ask if he would meet with Mr. Obama, but never called back. “The U.S. should be the safeguard of universal values,” he said, but Mr. Obama “actually didn’t make it a very high priority.”

For its part, the Chinese government made sure Mr. Obama did not bump into protesters by placing well-known activists under tighter security. Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a local organization, said 20 people were detained, placed under house arrest or prohibited from traveling before Mr. Obama’s visit.

Zhang Zuhua, once a Communist Party official and now among China’s most influential civil-rights activists, said additional police officers were watching his apartment and that he had been warned to avoid political activity.

Mr. Zhang expressed concern over what he called America’s growing reluctance to criticize China on human rights, saying “the Communist Party can pay even less regard to it and tighten up.”

But an alternative explanation for Mr. Obama’s comparatively low profile here, curiously, is the very insecurity of China’s autocratic regime.

In contrast to Mr. Jiang, who sparred openly with President Clinton over human rights, President Hu is a cautious politician whose tenure has been marked by an obsession with stability. In Mr. Obama’s case, for example, Chinese officials hamstrung negotiations over items like the national broadcast of Shanghai’s town hall meeting until they achieved most of their objectives to limit its exposure.

Mr Obama does not enjoy the matinee-idol status in China that has followed him elsewhere. But the Chinese are curious about the young new president, and in some cases, they clearly find him a refreshing contrast to their own retirement-age, shoe-blacked-hair leadership.

One topic of some awe on Chinese internet chat sites this week was the image of mr. Obama descending from Air Force One into rainy Beijing, holding his own umbrella aloft, without a servant’s assistance.

In a Nov. 11 Internet poll, web surfers were asked to say what was most memorable about Mr. Obama. The majority noted his Nobel Peace Prize award. Number two, improbably to outsiders, was a Chinese report that the president had insisted on paying for his own hamburger at a Washington restaurant.

In this basketball-crazy nation, Mr. Obama might singlehandledly have remade America’s image by showing up on the city’s many outdoor courts for a few rounds of hoops. Instead, he tiptoed around fractious issues like human rights, as Chinese authorities took extra steps to ensure that the state media not project any hint of disharmony.

One state newspaper editor said his newsroom now was more tense even than in June, when China passed the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Late Monday, he said, a Foreign Ministry censor insisted that two articles slated for publication on Tuesday be scrapped, including one straightforward news article on the value of China’s currency.

Mr. Obama’s trip, journalists at the paper joked, “had driven the homeless from Beijing, and brought more censorship to China.”

“It’s as if they think he’d read the paper and it would offend him and trigger an international uproar,” the editor said. As it is now, it would only trigger a snore.”

 

Edward Wong, Jonathan Ansfield and Xiyun Yang contributed reporting, and Li Bibo and Zhang Jing contributed research.

    Obama Skirts Chinese Political Sensitivities in Visit, NYT, 18.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/world/asia/18china.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Trip Shows Gaps on Issues as Role of China Grows

 

November 18, 2009
The New York Times
By EDWARD WONG and HELENE COOPER

 

BEIJING — President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China met in private off Tiananmen Square here on a frigid Tuesday morning to discuss cooperating on issues like trade, climate change and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, in a session that signaled the central role of China on the world stage and that highlighted the different approaches that it and the United States are taking on urgent problems around the globe.

The leaders insisted to reporters afterward that the United States and China were in agreement on a range of issues, and that the countries had affirmed commitments to work together to resolve their conflicts, but they spoke only in general terms, raising doubts about whether the two countries could easily bridge the gaps.

Later, in the afternoon, Mr. Obama toured the Forbidden City before giving a speech to employees at the American Embassy.

Some analysts said the news conference at noon was notable more for spelling out the points on which the two nations disagreed than for presenting any substantial agreements reached.

Also noteworthy was the range of issues on which the United States was asking China’s help, something that might have been unthinkable before the United States became embroiled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and before its economy was hobbled by the global financial crisis that began on its shores. China, meanwhile, has so far weathered the financial crisis in relatively good form.

“Before the financial crisis, the U.S. was in a world leader position,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the People’s University of China in Beijing. “Now, with China and the United States, maybe we see that the U.S. depends on the China for more issues than China depends on the U.S.”

Neither of the presidents took questions from reporters, staying in line with the minutely stage-managed atmosphere of Mr. Obama’s first visit to China, which began on Sunday. They said in separate speeches that the two nations would work together to stabilize the teetering world economy, contain the dangers of climate change and prevent nuclear proliferation. Later, the White House released a joint statement from the two leaders stressing those points and giving a few more details regarding each.

The public pronouncements made throughout the day were full of familiar rhetoric. At the start of their first meeting, Mr. Obama told Mr. Hu: “We believe strong dialogue is important not only for the U.S. and China, but for the rest of the world.”

Mr. Hu, in the news conference, said: “During the talks, I underlined to President Obama that given our differences in national conditions, it is only normal that our two sides may disagree on some issues. What is important is to respect and accommodate each other’s core interests and major concerns.”

From the news conference and the joint statement, the first issued by leaders of the two countries since 1998, it appeared that the bulk of the meetings consisted of the sides affirming their positions on the wide-ranging issues. Chinese leaders, for instance, said the U.S. should avoid protectionism, a reference to the spate of tariffs that have recently been levied against Chinese-manufactured goods. President Hu notably did not make any nod toward changing the value of the Chinese currency, the renminbi, which American officials have been pushing for in order to help American exporters.

President Obama said he respects Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and the one-China policy, a reference to sovereignty over Taiwan, but also urged China to talk to the Dalai Lama, whom Chinese leaders accuse of being a “splittist,” and said the United States would continue to abide by the Taiwan Relations Act, which mandates sales of arms of a defensive nature to Taiwan.

Even on climate change, an issue that the Obama administration had prioritized earlier this year in hopes that it would provide a platform for bilateral cooperation, the two countries did not seem close.

Analysts say the fact that crucial legislation on climate change has stagnated in Congress has undermined the negotiating power of the United States. China, meanwhile, continues to assert that any environmental measures taken must be balanced with the need for economic growth.

“Since China and the U.S. have totally different national conditions, they should take actions respectively in light of such realities on the ground,” He Yafei, a vice minister of foreign affairs, told reporters at a news conference in the afternoon.

The Americans also held a news conference, at almost the same time, in which a senior White House official said it would have been unrealistic to expect huge breakthroughs during the morning sessions.

“I do not think that we expected the waters would part and everything would change over the course of our 2.5 days in China,” he said.

The joint statement indicated that there would be many more rounds of talks ahead on all the major issues: more talks to discuss how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, more talks on how China could help bring peace to South Asia and, of course, more talks on the trade gap. Currency valuation and trade issues are the top priorities in a series of continuing bilateral talks between the two countries called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

“I think that disagreements are still there,” said Mr. Shi, the professor at People’s University. “Most of them have not substantially changed. This effort, by both leaders, shows they understand that they should do better in agreeing to disagree and in controlling the disputes, whether those are over Iran or trade or over Taiwan. Both leaders have increased their determination to control the disputes, to prevent disputes from spoiling the relations.”

The leaders greeted each other at the door of the Great Hall of the People after Mr. Obama’s motorcade slithered its way past thousands of onlookers crowding around Tiananmen Square, in front of the giant portrait of Mao, to catch a glimpse of the American president.

The leaders shook hands and walked up the red carpet, Chinese military leaders facing them. At the conference table where the first bilateral meeting was held, Mr. Obama sat flanked by senior cabinet members, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council.

The meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Hu came the day after Mr. Obama tried to hold a frank and public discussion with Chinese students in Shanghai. The event was called a town hall, but Mr. Obama’s meeting with about 500 students had little in common with the sometimes raucous exchanges that have become a fixture of American politics.

It was, instead, an example of Chinese stagecraft. Most of those who attended the event at the Museum of Science and Technology turned out to be members of the Communist Youth League, an official organization that grooms obedient students for future leadership posts.

Some Chinese bloggers whom the White House had tried to invite were barred from attending. Even then, the Chinese government took no chances, declining to broadcast the event live to a national audience — or even mention it on the main evening newscast of state-run China Central Television.

The scripted interaction underscored the obstacles Mr. Obama faces as he tries to manage the American relationship with an authoritarian China, whose wealth and clout have surged as its economy has weathered the global downturn far better than the United States’ or Europe’s.

 

Xiyun Yang contributed reporting.

    Obama Trip Shows Gaps on Issues as Role of China Grows, NYT, 18.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/world/asia/18prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

In China, Obama Pushes Need for ‘Strong Dialogue’

 

November 17, 2009
The New York Times
By EDWARD WONG and HELENE COOPER

 

BEIJING — President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China met in private off Tiananmen Square here on a frigid Tuesday morning to discuss issues such as trade, climate change and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, in a meeting that signaled the central role of China on the world stage.

The leaders greeted each other at the door of the Great Hall of the People after Mr. Obama’s motorcade slithered its way past thousands of onlookers crowding around Tiananmen Square, in front of the giant portrait of Mao, to catch a glimpse of the American president.

The leaders shook hands and walked up the red carpet, Chinese military leaders facing them. At the conference table where the first bilateral meeting was held, Mr. Obama sat flanked by senior cabinet members.

Striking a familiar note, Mr. Obama told Mr. Hu through an interpreter: “We believe strong dialogue is important not only for the U.S. and China, but for the rest of the world.”

The meeting was scheduled to have a heavy agenda, with officials from both countries addressing issues on which they often have divergent viewpoints. American officials had said climate change would be at or near the top of the priority list. But the continuing rancorous dispute over the valuation of the renminbi, the Chinese currency, and questions over the role that China might play in helping advance American foreign policy on Iran and North Korea, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, also loomed large at the conference table.

The meeting came the day after Mr. Obama tried to hold a frank and public discussion with Chinese students in Shanghai. The event was called a town hall, but Mr. Obama’s meeting with about 500 students had little in common with the sometimes raucous exchanges that have become a fixture of American politics.

It was, instead, an example of Chinese-style stagecraft. Most of those who attended the event at the Museum of Science and Technology turned out to be members of the Communist Youth League, an official organization that grooms obedient students for future leadership posts.

Some Chinese bloggers whom the White House had tried to invite were barred from attending. Even then, the Chinese government took no chances, declining to broadcast the event live to a national audience — or even mention it on the main evening newscast of state-run China Central Television.

The scripted interaction underscored the obstacles Mr. Obama faces as he tries to manage the American relationship with authoritarian China, whose wealth and clout have surged as its economy has weathered the global downturn far better than the United States’ or Europe’s.

It remained unclear whether the United States would make progress on several issues on this trip, including on the management of its tightly controlled currency, the renminbi, or on how to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. China has rejected American pressure to allow the renminbi to float freely and has opposed tougher sanctions on Iran.

The degree of control exercised over the most public event of Mr. Obama’s three-day stay in China suggests that Chinese leaders are less willing to make concessions to American demands for the arrangements of a presidential visit than they once were.

The White House spent weeks wrangling with Chinese authorities over who would be allowed to attend the Shanghai town hall meeting, including how much access the media would have and whether it would be broadcast live throughout the country. In the end Mr. Obama had little chance to promote a message to the broader Chinese public.

The event in some respects signaled a retreat from the reception given at least two earlier American presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both of whom asked for, and were granted, the opportunity to address the Chinese people and answer their questions in a live national broadcast.

One local television station broadcast Mr. Obama’s session live. But the official Xinhua news agency offered only a transcript of the exchange on its Web site instead of the live Webcast it had promised. The White House streamed the event live on its Web site, which did not appear to be blocked inside China. But that site is not a common destination for most Chinese looking for breaking news.

Although it was carefully choreographed, the event gave Mr. Obama a little room to prod the Chinese authorities toward more openness. In his initial remarks at the forum, Mr. Obama said that the United States was not seeking to impose its political system on other countries, but he called freedom of expression and worship among the “universal rights” common to all people.

He did, however, steer clear of the most delicate human rights topics, like the recent unrest in the Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, and he focused most of his comments on the need for China and the United States to become partners instead of rivals.

His tone reflected the fact that China had become the largest foreign lender to the United States at a time when America’s total public debt is surging and its economy is still trying to claw its way out of a deep slump. Mr. Obama said the two countries carried a “burden of leadership” on issues like climate change and nuclear nonproliferation, and said they needed to work more closely on matters of mutual concern.

“I will tell you, other countries around the world will be waiting for us,” Mr. Obama said at the town hall meeting. He later flew to Beijing for a dinner and full state visit hosted by President Hu.

At the Shanghai forum, Mr. Obama was asked only one question — “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” — that delved into an area the Chinese government considers controversial.

His cautious answer stood out as a sign that he hopes to reach China’s youth without offending its increasingly influential leaders. He delivered an oblique critique of China’s rigid controls and restrictions on the Internet and free speech without mentioning that China practices online censorship as a matter of policy.

“I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me,” he said. But, he added, “I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger, and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”

That snippet, at least initially, captured the attention of Chinese netizens. It was a topic of discussion on Web sites for a couple of hours after Mr. Obama spoke, before being deleted or removed from prominent positions. According to several Web snapshots in the hours after the meeting, “What’s Twitter?” and “Obama Shanghai” shot up to the list of Top 10 Chinese Google searches.

“I will not forget this morning,” one Chinese Twitter user posted on the Web site China Digital Times. “I heard, on my shaky Internet connection, a question about our own freedom which only a foreign leader can discuss.”

But most of the questions appeared to reflect the careful vetting of the crowd by the Chinese. Beijing vetoed the White House’s attempt to invite a group of popular bloggers, an audience component that administration officials hoped would make the session more authentic, according to several people who were asked to participate in the forum.

“I was invited, but then a few days ago I was told we can’t go,” said Michael Anti, a popular blogger who formerly worked as a research assistant at The New York Times and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard last year. “I don’t know why.”

 

David Barboza contributed reporting from Shanghai, and Jonathan Ansfield from Beijing.

    In China, Obama Pushes Need for ‘Strong Dialogue’, NYT, 17.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/world/asia/17prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Pushes Rights With Chinese Students

 

November 17, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and DAVID BARBOZA

 

SHANGHAI — He didn’t explicitly call on China’s leaders to lift the veil of state control that restricts Internet access and online social networking here. But President Obama did tiptoe — ever so lightly — into that controversial topic on Monday when he told students in Shanghai that a free and unfettered Internet is a source of strength, not weakness.

For Mr. Obama, who has been taking pains to strike a conciliatory note during his first visit to China, it was a rare challenge to Chinese authorities, but expressed in Mr. Obama’s now familiar nuance. Responding to a question that came via the Internet during a town hall meeting with Shanghai students — “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” — Mr. Obama first l started to answer in the slightly off-the-point manner which he often uses when he is gathering his thoughts.

“Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter,” he said. “My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone.”

But then he appeared to gather confidence. “I should be honest, as president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time,” he said. But, he added, “because in the United States, information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”

On a trip where he has gone out of his way to present a kinder and gentler image of America — bowing before Emperor Akihito in Japan (which raised the ire of right-wing bloggers back home), meeting with one of the military rulers of Myanmar, reassuring China that America doesn’t seek to contain the rising economic giant — the Twitter question, and Mr. Obama’s answer, stood out as a stark snapshot of a young American president’s efforts to reach China’s youth while not offending its authorities.

“I will no forget this morning,” one Chinese Twitterer said. “I heard, on my shaky Internet connection, a question about our own freedom which only a foreign leader can discuss.”

Interestingly, China’s government itself demonstrated some restraint, and allowed the Twitter question and Mr. Obama’s answer to stay up on websites hours after the town hall meeting.

That restraint, however, apparently only went so far. The students —some 500 —in the audience seemed handpicked by the government and many were members of the Communist Youth League, which is closely affiliated with President Hu Jintao.

That could explain some of the questions, like this one, offered by a young man who said the question came in from the Internet from a Taiwan businessman worried that some people in America were selling arms and weapons to Taiwan. “I worry that this may make our cross-straits relations suffer,” the questioner said. “So I would like to know if, Mr. President, are you supportive of improved cross-straits relations?”

Mr. Obama grabbed the out that the questioner gave him and ran with it. Making no mention of the part about arms sales to Taiwan, he instead offered up the standard American talking point on Taiwan. “My administration fully supports a one-China policy, as reflected in the three joint communiqués that date back several decades, in terms of our relations with Taiwan as well as our relations with the People’s Republic of China,” he said.

Unlike previous town hall gatherings in China with other American presidents, Mr. Obama’s question-and-answer session was not broadcast live on China’s official state network. Instead, according to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, live broadcasts inside China were carried on the agency’s Web site and on local Shanghai stations.

The White House streamed the event live on its Web site, , which is not blocked or censored in China, and a simultaneous Chinese translation was offered. The feed also was available through the White House page on Facebook.

Unlike American town hall events, where speakers blast campaign songs while the audience chatters loudly, you could almost hear a pin drop as the students waited for Mr. Obama in an auditorium at the Museum of Science and Technology.

Qian Yu, a student from East China Normal University, said she was impressed with Mr. Obama but not happy about the limited number of questions he took. “I wish it had been a longer time,” she said after. “I had lots of questions I’d have liked to ask.”

Mr. Obama left Shanghai immediately after the town hall meeting, and flew to Beijing where he has a packed schedule: several meetings with China’s leaders, two dinners with Mr. Hu, including an elaborate state dinner Tuesday night, and tours of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

    Obama Pushes Rights With Chinese Students, NYT, 17.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/world/asia/17shanghai.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Begins First Visit to China

 

November 16, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID BARBOZA


SHANGHAI — President Obama arrived here late Sunday on the third leg of his four-nation trip to Asia, where he is working to strengthen ties in the region.

After meeting with world leaders in Japan and Singapore, the president is beginning his first visit to China, where he will have a chance to see for himself this country’s spectacular rise.

The President and his advisers, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are expected to discuss a wide-range of issues with China’s leaders, including North Korea, terrorism, the environment, human rights and the fragile state of the global economy.

The President is expected to praise Beijing for its efforts to stimulate its economy, aiding a global recovery that is now gathering steam. But he is also expected to press Beijing to allow its currency to appreciate and to speed up market reforms and give American companies greater access to its market, which could bolster American exports and help create jobs in the United States.

The three-day visit to China comes after the president traveled to Japan and Singapore, where on Sunday he attended an Asia-Pacific economic summit. During those trips, President Obama pledged to forge closer ties with Japan, a longtime ally, and in a speech in Tokyo said that he does not fear China’s rise but welcomes it.

In Singapore on Sunday, the President met world leaders, including Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev and suggested the two nations may agree to sanctions against Iran because of the slow progress that country has made in negotiations over its uranium enrichment facility.

Now, the President will get his first glimpse of China, which after a sharp slowdown last year and early this year, is in the midst of another growth spurt. The country’s economy is likely to grow by about8 percent, by far the best performing major economy, accounting for much of the world’s economic growth this year. The country’s real estate and stock markets are once again booming, and hot initial public stock offerings are luring frenzied investors to play in the financial markets.

China’s exports have suffered through a sharp slowdown, down more than 20 percent from a year ago, when China racked up a huge trade surplus with the rest of the world. But this year China is expected to surpass Germany as the world’s biggest exporter, and record a trade surplus in excess of $200 billion.

Trade tensions with the United States have eased significantly over the past year, largely because a large drop in Chinese imports. But American labor unions and some members of Congress continue to press for trade sanctions, arguing that China manipulates its currency to gain an unfair advantage, costing America jobs.

Other economists, however, contend that the currency is a false issue, noting that only 18 percent of America’s imports come from China and that many of those are simply assembled in China, using parts from around the world. Many of China’s biggest exporters to the United States are American and European companies that operate factories here.

The president arrived on Air Force One at about 11:15 p.m. during a cold rain, and drove through the center of this country’s richest and glitziest city, past skyscrapers and bright streets that advertised Chinese brands like Li Ning sportswear, but also Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada.

On Monday, the president is scheduled to meet Shanghai’s leaders, and then hold what is being billed as a town hall meeting with “future leaders of China,” mostly university students. Mr. Obama is expected to take questions from the young people, but also to field questions submitted through the Internet. The meeting is expected to be broadcast live inside China, according to several Chines journalists, and also on the White House web site, www.whitehouse.gov.

Administration officials say the president is eager to interact directly with the country’s young people, with questions unfiltered by the government.

Later Monday, the president will fly to Beijing, where he will hold high level meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. He is also scheduled to attend a state dinner and to visit a section of the Great Wall.

    Obama Begins First Visit to China, NYT, 16.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/16/world/asia/16shanghai.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Says Russia ‘Reset Button’ Has Worked

 

November 16, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER

 

SINGAPORE — President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia expressed dissatisfaction Sunday with Iran’s response to a nuclear offer made by world powers, raising the prospect that sanctions may be the next step in the West’s ongoing efforts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The two men, meeting during an Asia-Pacific summit conference in Singapore before Mr. Obama traveled to Shanghai, also made progress in efforts to negotiate a replacement for a key arms control treaty between the United States and Russia that is set to expire in December, American administration officials said.

While White House officials acknowledged on Sunday that a new pact to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, will not be ratified soon, they said they expect to reach a “bridge” agreement that will preserve the status quo until a new treaty is approved.

Earlier, on Sunday morning, Mr. Obama and other world leaders decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global conference scheduled for next month, deciding instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific, “politically binding” agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.

The Sunday afternoon discussion with Mr. Medvedev was the fifth such meeting for Mr. Obama since he took office vowing to repair America’s relationship with Russia, and American officials expressed satisfaction Sunday with their progress so far.

“I have found, as always, President Medvedev frank, constructive and thoughtful,” Mr. Obama said after the meeting.

“The reset button has worked,” he added, alluding to the administration’s early promise to “reset” the bilateral relationship after several years of bickering over a variety of issues from missile defense to Kosovo.

With the START treaty set to expire soon, the Obama administration is searching for ways to have weapons inspectors remain in Russia to keep American eyes on the world’s second most formidable nuclear arsenal. In the absence of a treaty or a legally binding “bridge” authority, American inspectors would be forced to leave Russia when the treaty expires. Likewise, Russian inspectors would have to leave the United States.

Under START provisions, both nations are allowed a maximum of 30 inspectors to monitor each other’s compliance with the treaty.

On Iran, administration officials said, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev discussed a timetable for imposing sanctions if Tehran and the West do not soon agree on a proposal in which Iran would send its enriched uranium out of the country, either for either temporary safekeeping or reprocessing into fuel rods.

“Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran appears to have been unable to say yes to what everyone acknowledges is a creative and constructive approach,” said Mr. Obama, sitting next to Mr. Medvedev. “We are running out of time with respect to that approach.”

Mr. Medvedev also alluded to running out of patience. He said that while a dialogue with Iran was continuing, “we are not completely happy about its pace. If something does not work there are other means to move the process further.”

Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said the United States has set an internal deadline of the end of the year.

The talks between Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev occurred on the sidelines of two major regional economic summit meetings in Singapore, during Mr. Obama’s first trip to Asia as president. He has taken to referring to himself as “America’s first Pacific president,” a phrase he first used during a speech Saturday morning in Tokyo.

Mr. Obama is seeking on this trip to ensure that American ties to the Asia-Pacific region remain firmly cemented, despite disparities in economic growth and the rising influence of China.

On Sunday he became the first American president to meet with Myanmar’s military leaders when he attended a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also being held in Singapore. Mr. Obama, who has made his willingness to engage with adversaries one of his foreign policy hallmarks, sat four places away from Gen. Thein Sein, the prime minister of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

After the meeting, Asean issued a joint statement that broadly mentioned human rights .

Generally, statements out of meetings that involve many countries — like Asean and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group — rarely make news or carry much weight, in part because these organizations operate by consensus, with every country signing off on every line of the final statements. Because Myanmar is a member of Asean, there was little chance that the group’s joint statement would call for the release of the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyior other political prisoners in Myanmar.

Similarly, the communiqué released after the APEC meeting in Singapore was a study in a lack of commitment. For instance, the leaders agreed that they “will continue to explore building blocks towards a possible Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific in the future,” a statement with so many caveats and hedging that trade experts said not to expect anything concrete for decades.

The APEC leaders also “endorsed the Pittsburgh G20 principles”— and agreed to work toward “more balanced growth that is less prone to destabilizing booms and busts.” That refers to the pledge made by the world’s 20 leading economies in Pittsburgh in September to rethink their economic policies in a coordinated effort to reduce the immense imbalances between export-dominated countries like China and Japan and debt-laden countries like the United States, which has long been the world’s most willing consumer.

But since the majority of members of APEC are in the Group of 20 anyway, endorsing those principles does not break much new ground.

At a hastily arranged breakfast on Sunday on the APEC sidelines, the leaders — including Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark and the chairman of the climate conference who flew to Singapore just for the meeting — agreed that in order to salvage Copenhagen they would have to push back the chance to reach a fully binding legal agreement, possibly to a second summit in Mexico City.

“There was an assessment by the leaders that is unrealistic to expect that a full internationally, legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen, which starts in 22 days,” said Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs.

“I don’t think the negotiations have proceeded in such a way that any of the leaders thought it was likely that we were going to achieve a final agreement in Copenhagen, and yet thought that it was important that Copenhagen be an important step forward, including with operational impact.”

With the clock running out and deep differences resolved, it has, for several months, appeared increasingly unlikely that the climate change negotiations in Denmark would produce a comprehensive and binding new treaty on global warming, as its organizers had intended.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups issued toughly worded condemnations.

“Of course, this is not surprising but it’s in no way acceptable,” said Kaisa Kosonen, a Greenpeace climate adviser now in Copenhagen. She questioned whether most countries would accept the Singapore plan — which she said would put off any binding agreement “into an unclear future date” — and she urged European leaders to reject it.

“We really want to find out where European leaders — individually — stand on this,” she said in a phone interview.

A statement from the environmental group WWF said that only a legally binding agreement would be meaningful.

Le Figaro reported that Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil were crafting a new approach meant to revive serious action in Copenhagen — the Paris daily quoted Mr. Sarkozy as saying that he would not accept a “cut-rate agreement” — but the paper concluded that the American position had “dampened any hope of reaching an agreement at the Copenhagen summit.”

The agreement on Sunday codifies what negotiators had already accepted as all but inevitable: Representatives of the 192 nations in the talks would not resolve the outstanding issues in time. The gulf between rich and poor countries, and even among the wealthiest nations, was just too wide.

Among the chief barriers to a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen was Congress’s inability to enact climate and energy legislation that sets binding targets on greenhouse gases in the United States. Without such a commitment, other nations have been loath to make their own pledges.

Administration officials and Congressional leaders have said that final legislative action on a climate bill would not occur before the first half of next year.

Mr. Obama arrived Sunday evening in Shanghai, the next stop on his weeklong Asian tour, where he will hold a town hall meeting with students. Uncertain at this point is whether the Chinese authorities will allow the meeting to be shown live on television nationwide.

 

Brian Knowlton contributed reporting from Washington.

    Obama Says Russia ‘Reset Button’ Has Worked, NYT, 16.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/16/world/asia/16prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Leaders Will Delay Agreement on Climate

 

November 15, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER

 

SINGAPORE — President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific “politically binding” agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.

At a hastily arranged breakfast on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting on Sunday morning, the leaders, including Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark and the chairman of the climate conference, agreed that in order to salvage Copenhagen they would have to push a fully binding legal agreement down the road, possibly to a second summit meeting in Mexico City later on.

“There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full internationally, legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen, which starts in 22 days,” said Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. “I don’t think the negotiations have proceeded in such a way that any of the leaders thought it was likely that we were going to achieve a final agreement in Copenhagen, and yet thought that it was important that Copenhagen be an important step forward, including with operational impact.”

With the clock running out and deep differences unresolved, it has, for several months, appeared increasingly unlikely that the climate change negotiations in Denmark would produce a comprehensive and binding new treaty on global warming, as its organizers had intended.

The agreement on Sunday codifies what negotiators had already accepted as all but inevitable: that representatives of the 192 nations in the talks would not resolve the outstanding issues in time. The gulf between rich and poor countries, and even among the wealthiest nations, was just too wide.

Among the chief barriers to a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen was Congress’s inability to enact climate and energy legislation that sets binding targets on greenhouse gases in the United States. Without such a commitment, other nations are loath to make their own pledges.

Administration officials and Congressional leaders have said that final legislative action on a climate bill would not occur before the first half of next year.

After his breakfast meeting in Singapore, Mr. Obama was scheduled to meet with Asian leaders and to hold a number of one-on-one sessions, including one with the Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev.

After his meeting with Mr. Medvedev, Mr. Obama will attend a symbolically important regional meeting of Southeast Asian nations, in which representatives of Myanmar’s government will also be present. Mr. Obama, who has made a point of his willingness to engage with adversaries, noted that for the first time an American president would be at the table with Myanmar’s military junta. But he has also called on the government to release the leader of the country’s beleaguered democracy movement, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

APEC summit meetings are not known for accomplishing much that is substantive. The most memorable moments often involve the photo opportunities, in which leaders wear colorful matching shirts. And often communiqués issued on dismantling trade barriers are undermined by the attending countries almost as soon as they are signed.

Speaking to world leaders at the APEC summit meeting Sunday morning, Mr. Obama said he would hold the 2011 gathering in Hawaii.

“The United States was there at the first meeting of APEC at Blake Island when President Clinton started the tradition of having leaders wear outfits picked out by the host nation,” Mr. Obama said. “And when America hosts APEC in a few years, I look forward to seeing you all decked out in flowered shirts and grass skirts because today I am announcing that my home state of Hawaii will be hosting this forum in 2011.”

This year’s meeting promises more of the same, complete with charges and countercharges of protectionism.

President Felipe Calderón of Mexico got things going early Saturday when he lashed out at what he called politically driven protectionism in the United States. He complained that Congressional coddling of the Teamsters had prevented the United States from opening its borders to Mexican trucks, which it was supposed to do years ago after it signed Nafta.

“Protectionism is killing North American companies,” Mr. Calderón said in Singapore. “The American government is facing political pressure that has not been counteracted.”

Mr. Obama is facing high expectations, which may be difficult to meet. For instance, while he has spoken about reducing trade barriers, he also talked during his speech in Tokyo on Saturday of making sure that the United States and Asia did not return to a cycle — which he termed “imbalanced” — in which American consumerism caused Asians to look at the United States as mainly an export market.

There are also high hopes among American companies and some Asian countries that the United States will commit to joining a regional trading group called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Although Mr. Obama did open the door during his speech in Tokyo on Asia policy, he did not explicitly say that the United States would join the pact. A formal announcement that the United States is beginning negotiations would undoubtedly kick off criticism from free-trade opponents in the United States and pushback from Congress.

Mr. Obama spoke, instead, of “engaging the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that will have broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st-century trade agreement.”

That line left many trade envoys already in Singapore scratching their heads: did Mr. Obama mean that the United States would begin formal talks to join the regional trade pact, which presently includes Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand, and could later include Vietnam — an addition that could lead to more Congressional pressure at home?

Many regional officials have been waiting for the United States to join the initiative as a demonstration that Washington will play a more active role in the region. But the Obama administration has yet to establish a firm trade policy, as it is still reviewing its options.

White House officials were not much clearer on what Mr. Obama meant when they were pressed on this after the speech. Mr. Froman, the deputy national security adviser, said that what Mr. Obama meant was that he would engage with the initiative “to see if this is something that could prove to be an important platform going further.”

    Leaders Will Delay Agreement on Climate, NYT, 15.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/world/asia/15prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama: Time For Iran to Build New Ties With U.S.

 

November 4, 2009
Filed at 1:54 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By REUTERS

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama used the 30th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis to urge Tehran to make concessions over its nuclear program, saying it needs to turn the page on the past and forge a new relationship with the United States.

"It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity and justice for its people," Obama said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Iran must choose," Obama said. "We have heard for thirty years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for."

Tehran and Washington have been at odds for years over Iran's nuclear program which Western powers fear is a covert effort to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies that and says it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Iran said on Monday that it wants more talks on a U.N.-drafted nuclear deal and to import atomic fuel rather than send its own uranium abroad for processing, an Iranian diplomat said, terms world powers are likely to rebuff.

France, Germany, Britain and Russia have urged Iran to accept the draft deal.

Obama said the United States has recognized Iran's right to peaceful nuclear power and has taken steps, along with other Western powers to restore Tehran's confidence.

"We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community," Obama said in the statement.

Washington cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution when radical students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

"This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation," Obama said. "I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect."

Iran was marking the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Islamic state would not be tricked into reconciliation with the United States, state radio reported.

"The American government is a really arrogant power and the Iranian nation will not be deceived with its apparent reconciliatory behavior until America abandons its arrogant attitude," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state radio.

 

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; editing by Anthony Boadle)

    Obama: Time For Iran to Build New Ties With U.S., NYT, 4.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/11/04/us/politics/politics-us-obama-iran.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Faces Pakistani Anger at Drone Attacks

 

October 30, 2009
Filed at 10:40 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton came face-to-face Friday with simmering Pakistani anger over U.S. aerial drone attacks in their country and drew back slightly from her blunt remarks suggesting Pakistani officials know where terrorists are hiding.

In a series of public appearances on the final day of a three-day visit, Clinton was pressed repeatedly by Pakistani civilians and journalists about the secret U.S. program that uses drones to launch missiles to kill terrorists.

But she refused to discuss the drones strikes along the porous border area with Afghanistan that have killed key terror leaders but also scores of civilians.

Clinton's visit was rocked from the start by a devastating terrorist bombing in Peshawar that killed 105 people, many of them women and children. Her tour has proceeded tensely, revealing clear signs of strain between the two nations despite months of public insistence that they were on the same wavelength in the war on terror.

What is less apparent is what U.S. officials are aiming for with Clinton's tough new comments about Pakistani officials' failure to eliminate al-Qaida as a threat within their borders.

Pakistan's military recently launched a major offensive in the South Waziristan border area to clear out insurgent hideouts. But two earlier army efforts made little progress there -- leaving questions about the military's resolve to tackle al-Qaida head-on.

Clinton carefully scaled back her comments from a day earlier suggesting that some Pakistani officials knew where al-Qaida's upper echelon has been hiding and have done little to target them.

When the U.S. gathers evidence that al-Qaida fugitives are hiding in Pakistan, Clinton said Friday during a Pakistani media interview, ''We feel like we have to go to the government of Pakistan and say, somewhere these people have to be hidden out.''

''We don't know where, and I have no information that they know where, but this is a big government. You know, it's a government on many levels. Somebody, somewhere in Pakistan must know where these people are. And we'd like to know because we view them as really at the core of the terrorist threat that threatens Pakistan, threatens Afghanistan, threatens us, threatens people all over the world,'' Clinton said.

And during an interview Friday on ABC's ''Good Morning America,'' Clinton demurred when asked if she thought Pakistan was harboring terrorists, saying: ''I don't think they are. ... But I think it would be a missed opportunity and a lack of recognition of the full extent of the threat, if they did not realize that any safe haven anywhere for terrorists threatens them, threatens us, and has to be addressed.''

A day earlier she was more explicit in her skepticism, telling a Pakistani journalist in Lahore: ''I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that's the case. Maybe they're not gettable. I don't know.''

A top Pakistan official insisted Friday his country is fighting back against militants and also urging the world to do more against the rise of terrorism.

''There was a time when the world was telling us to do more,'' Interior Minister Rehman Malik acknowledged, speaking Friday alongside Clinton at a police training center.

''We have decided to fight back,'' he said. Malik did not explicitly refer to Clinton's comments, but his words appeared intended to counter what she said.

Late Thursday, Pakistani army officers displayed two passports seized from a suspected terror hideout in South Waziristan and believed linked to terror operatives.

Asked repeatedly Friday about the U.S. use of drones, a subject which involves highly classified CIA operations and is rarely acknowledged in public by American officials, Clinton said only that ''there is a war going on.'' She added that the Obama administration is committed to helping Pakistan defeat the insurgents.

Clinton said she could not comment on ''any particular tactic or technology'' used in the war against extremist groups in the area.

The use of the drone aircraft, armed with guided missiles, is credited by U.S. officials with eliminating a growing number of senior terrorist group leaders this year who had used the tribal lands of Pakistan as a haven beyond the reach of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan.

During an interview with Clinton broadcast live in Pakistan with several prominent female TV anchors, before a predominantly female audience of several hundred, one member of the audience said the Predator attacks amount to ''executions without trial'' for those killed.

Another asked Clinton how she would define terrorism.

''Is it the killing of people in drone attacks?'' she asked. That woman then asked if Clinton considers drone attacks and bombings like the one that killed more than 100 civilians in the city of Peshawar earlier this week to both be acts of terrorism.

''No, I do not,'' Clinton replied.

Another man told her bluntly: ''Please forgive me, but I would like to say we've been fighting your war.''

Clinton was to fly to Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf for a meeting Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

    Clinton Faces Pakistani Anger at Drone Attacks, NYT, 30.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/10/30/world/AP-AS-Clinton.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Guest Columnist

Rebranding America

 

October 18, 2009
The New York Times
By BONO

 

A FEW years ago, I accepted a Golden Globe award by barking out an expletive.

One imagines President Obama did the same when he heard about his Nobel, and not out of excitement.

When Mr. Obama takes the stage at Oslo City Hall this December, he won’t be the first sitting president to receive the peace prize, but he might be the most controversial. There’s a sense in some quarters of these not-so-United States that Norway, Europe and the World haven’t a clue about the real President Obama; instead, they fixate on a fantasy version of the president, a projection of what they hope and wish he is, and what they wish America to be.

Well, I happen to be European, and I can project with the best of them. So here’s why I think the virtual Obama is the real Obama, and why I think the man might deserve the hype. It starts with a quotation from a speech he gave at the United Nations last month:

“We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

They’re not my words, they’re your president’s. If they’re not familiar, it’s because they didn’t make many headlines. But for me, these 36 words are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity — if the words signal action.

The millennium goals, for those of you who don’t know, are a persistent nag of a noble, global compact. They’re a set of commitments we all made nine years ago whose goal is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Barack Obama wasn’t there in 2000, but he’s there now. Indeed he’s gone further — all the way, in fact. Halve it, he says, then end it.

Many have spoken about the need for a rebranding of America. Rebrand, restart, reboot. In my view these 36 words, alongside the administration’s approach to fighting nuclear proliferation and climate change, improving relations in the Middle East and, by the way, creating jobs and providing health care at home, are rebranding in action.

These new steps — and those 36 words — remind the world that America is not just a country but an idea, a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man.

All right ... I don’t speak for the rest of the world. Sometimes I think I do — but as my bandmates will quickly (and loudly) point out, I don’t even speak for one small group of four musicians. But I will venture to say that in the farthest corners of the globe, the president’s words are more than a pop song people want to hear on the radio. They are lifelines.

In dangerous, clangorous times, the idea of America rings like a bell (see King, M. L., Jr., and Dylan, Bob). It hits a high note and sustains it without wearing on your nerves. (If only we all could.) This was the melody line of the Marshall Plan and it’s resonating again. Why? Because the world sees that America might just hold the keys to solving the three greatest threats we face on this planet: extreme poverty, extreme ideology and extreme climate change. The world senses that America, with renewed global support, might be better placed to defeat this axis of extremism with a new model of foreign policy.

It is a strangely unsettling feeling to realize that the largest Navy, the fastest Air Force, the fittest strike force, cannot fully protect us from the ghost that is terrorism .... Asymmetry is the key word from Kabul to Gaza .... Might is not right.

I think back to a phone call I got a couple of years ago from Gen. James Jones. At the time, he was retiring from the top job at NATO; the idea of a President Obama was a wild flight of the imagination.

General Jones was curious about the work many of us were doing in economic development, and how smarter aid — embodied in initiatives like President George W. Bush’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Corporation — was beginning to save lives and change the game for many countries. Remember, this was a moment when America couldn’t get its cigarette lighted in polite European nations like Norway; but even then, in the developing world, the United States was still seen as a positive, even transformative, presence.

The general and I also found ourselves talking about what can happen when the three extremes — poverty, ideology and climate — come together. We found ourselves discussing the stretch of land that runs across the continent of Africa, just along the creeping sands of the Sahara — an area that includes Sudan and northern Nigeria. He also agreed that many people didn’t see that the Horn of Africa — the troubled region that encompasses Somalia and Ethiopia — is a classic case of the three extremes becoming an unholy trinity (I’m paraphrasing) and threatening peace and stability around the world.

The military man also offered me an equation. Stability = security + development.

In an asymmetrical war, he said, the emphasis had to be on making American foreign policy conform to that formula.

Enter Barack Obama.

If that last line still seems like a joke to you ... it may not for long.

Mr. Obama has put together a team of people who believe in this equation. That includes the general himself, now at the National Security Council; the vice president, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; the Republican defense secretary; and a secretary of state, someone with a long record of championing the cause of women and girls living in poverty, who is now determined to revolutionize health and agriculture for the world’s poor. And it looks like the bipartisan coalition in Congress that accomplished so much in global development over the past eight years is still holding amid rancor on pretty much everything else. From a development perspective, you couldn’t dream up a better dream team to pursue peace in this way, to rebrand America.

The president said that he considered the peace prize a call to action. And in the fight against extreme poverty, it’s action, not intentions, that counts. That stirring sentence he uttered last month will ring hollow unless he returns to next year’s United Nations summit meeting with a meaningful, inclusive plan, one that gets results for the billion or more people living on less than $1 a day. Difficult. Very difficult. But doable.

The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, “Don’t blow it.”

But that’s not just directed at Mr. Obama. It’s directed at all of us. What the president promised was a “global plan,” not an American plan. The same is true on all the other issues that the Nobel committee cited, from nuclear disarmament to climate change — none of these things will yield to unilateral approaches. They’ll take international cooperation and American leadership.

The president has set himself, and the rest of us, no small task.

That’s why America shouldn’t turn up its national nose at popularity contests. In the same week that Mr. Obama won the Nobel, the United States was ranked as the most admired country in the world, leapfrogging from seventh to the top of the Nation Brands Index survey — the biggest jump any country has ever made. Like the Nobel, this can be written off as meaningless ... a measure of Mr. Obama’s celebrity (and we know what people think of celebrities).

But an America that’s tired of being the world’s policeman, and is too pinched to be the world’s philanthropist, could still be the world’s partner. And you can’t do that without being, well, loved. Here come the letters to the editor, but let me just say it: Americans are like singers — we just a little bit, kind of like to be loved. The British want to be admired; the Russians, feared; the French, envied. (The Irish, we just want to be listened to.) But the idea of America, from the very start, was supposed to be contagious enough to sweep up and enthrall the world.

And it is. The world wants to believe in America again because the world needs to believe in America again. We need your ideas — your idea — at a time when the rest of the world is running out of them.

 

Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, is a contributing columnist for The Times.

    Rebranding America, NYT, 18.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/opinion/18bono.html

 

 

 

 

 

In Surprise, Obama Wins Nobel for Diplomacy

 

October 10, 2009
The New York Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and WALTER GIBBS

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced in Oslo that it has awarded the annual prize to the president “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The award cited in particular Mr. Obama’s effort to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal.

“He has created a new international climate,” the committee said.

The announcement, coming extraordinarily early in Mr. Obama’s presidency — less than nine months after he took office as the first African American president — shocked people from Norway to Washington.

The White House had no idea it was coming.

“There has been no discussion, nothing at all,” said Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, in a brief telephone interview.

Mr. Emanuel said he had not yet spoken directly to the president, but that he believed Mr. Obama may have been informed of the award by his press secretary, Robert Gibbs. There was no official comment from the White House. However, a senior administration official said in an e-mail message that Mr. Gibbs called the White House shortly before 6 a.m. and woke the president with the news.

“The president was humbled to be selected by the committee,” the official said, without adding anything further.

Mr. Obama made repairing the fractured relations between the United States and the rest of the world a major theme of his campaign for the presidency and since taking office as president, he has pursued a range of policies intended to fulfill that goal. He has vowed to pursue a world without nuclear arms, as he did in a speech in Prague earlier this year, reached out to the Muslim world, delivering a major speech in Cairo in June, and sought to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee said in its citation. “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

But while Mr. Obama has generated considerable good will overseas — his foreign counterparts are eager to meet with him, and polls show he is hugely popular around the world — many of his policy efforts have yet to bear fruit, or are only just beginning to. North Korea has defied him with missile tests; Iran, however, recently agreed to restart nuclear talks, which Mr. Obama has called “a constructive beginning.”

In that sense, Mr. Obama is unlike past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize such as former President Jimmy Carter, who won in 2002 for what presenters cited as decades of “untiring efforts” to seek peaceful end to international conflicts. (Mr. Carter failed to win in 1978, as some had expected, after he brokered a historic peace deal between Israel and Egypt.)

Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a former prime minister of Norway, said the president had already contributed enough to world diplomacy and international understanding to earn the award.

“We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year,” Mr. Jagland said. “We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.”

The prize comes as Mr. Obama faces considerable challenges at home. On the domestic front, he is trying to press Congress to pass major legislation overhauling the nation’s health care system. On the foreign policy front, he is wrestling with declining support in his own party for the war in Afghanistan. The White House is engaged in an internal debate over whether to send more troops there, as Mr. Obama’s commanding general has requested.

Mr. Obama also suffered a rejection on the world stage when he traveled to Copenhagen only last Friday to press the United States’ unsuccessful bid to host the Olympics in Chicago. Mr. Emanuel, who heard the news at 5 a.m. when he was heading out for his morning swim, said he joked to his wife, “Oslo beats Copenhagen.”

But rebuffs have been rare for Mr. Obama as he has traveled the world these past nine months — from Africa to Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, with a trip to Asia planned for November.

In April, just hours after North Korea tested a ballistic missile in defiance of international sanctions, he told a huge crowd in Prague that he is committed to “a world without nuclear weapons.”

In June, he traveled to Cairo, fulfilling a campaign pledge to deliver a speech in a major Muslim capital. There, in a speech that was interrupted with shouts of “We love you!” from the crowd, Mr. Obama said he sought a “new beginning” and a “fresh relationship” based on mutual understanding and respect.

“I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors,” the president said then. “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, to seek common ground.”

But Mr. Obama’s foreign policy has been criticized bitterly among neoconservatives like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who have suggested his rhetoric is naïve and his inclination to talk to America’s enemies will leave the United States vulnerable to another terrorist attack.

In its announcement of the prize, the Nobel Committee seemed to directly refute that line of thinking.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics,” the committee wrote. “Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.”

Interviewed later in the Nobel Committee’s wood-paneled meeting room, surrounded by photographs of past winners, Mr. Jagland brushed aside concerns expressed by some critics that Mr. Obama remains untested.

“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” Mr. Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”

He compared the selection of Mr. Obama with the award in 1971 to the then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt for his “Ostpolitik” policy of reconciliation with communist eastern Europe.

“Brandt hadn’t achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” said Mr. Jagland. “The same thing is true of the prize to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, for launching perestroika. One can say that Barack Obama is trying to change the world, just as those two personalities changed Europe.”

“We have to get the world on the right track again,” he said. Without referring specifically to the Bush era, he continued: “Look at the level of confrontation we had just a few years ago. Now we get a man who is not only willing but probably able to open dialogue and strengthen international institutions.”

President Obama was the third leading American Democrat to win the prize in 10 years, following former Vice President Al Gore in 2007 along with the United Nations climate panel and former President Jimmy Carter in 2002.

The last sitting American president to win the prize was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Theodore Roosevelt was selected in 1906 while in the White House and Mr. Carter more than 20 years after he left office.

The prize was won last year by the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari for peace efforts in Africa and the Balkans.

The prize is worth the equivalent of $1.4 million and is to be awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10.

The full citation read: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the United States is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”

 

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from Washington and Walter Gibbs from Oslo, Norway. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London and Richard Berry from Paris.

    In Surprise, Obama Wins Nobel for Diplomacy, NYT, 10.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/world/10nobel.html

 

 

 

 

 

Cryptic Iranian Note Ignited an Urgent Nuclear Strategy Debate

 

September 26, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and MARK MAZZETTI

 

PITTSBURGH — On Tuesday evening in New York, top officials of the world nuclear watchdog agency approached two of President Obama’s senior advisers to deliver the news: Iran had just sent a cryptic letter describing a small “pilot” nuclear facility that the country had never before declared.

The Americans were surprised by the letter, but they were angry about what it did not say. American intelligence had come across the hidden tunnel complex years earlier, and the advisers believed the situation was far more ominous than the Iranians were letting on.

That night, huddled in a hotel room in the Waldorf-Astoria until well into the early hours, five of Mr. Obama’s closest national security advisers, in New York for the administration’s first United Nations General Assembly, went back and forth on what they would advise their boss when they took him the news in the morning. A few hours later, in a different hotel room, they met with Mr. Obama and his senior national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, to talk strategy.

The White House essentially decided to outflank the Iranians, to present to their allies and the public what they believed was powerful evidence that there was more to the Iranian site than just some pilot program. They saw it as a chance to use this evidence to persuade other countries to support the case for stronger sanctions by showing that the Iranians were still working on a secret nuclear plan.

It was three dramatic days of highly sensitive diplomacy and political maneuvering, from an ornate room at the Waldorf, where Mr. Obama pressed President Dimitri A. Medvedev of Russia for support, to the United Nations Security Council chamber, where General Jones at one point hustled his Russian counterpart from the room in the middle of a rare meeting of Council leaders.

General Jones told his counterpart, Sergei Prikhodko, that the United States was going to go public with the intelligence. Meanwhile, in the hallways of the United Nations and over the phone, American and European officials debated when, and how, to present their case against Iran to the world.

European officials urged speed, saying that Mr. Obama should accuse Iran of developing the secret facility first thing Thursday morning, when he presided over the Security Council for the very first time. It would have been a stirring and confrontational moment. But White House officials countered that it was too soon; they would not have time to brief allies and the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Mr. Obama did not want to dilute the nuclear nonproliferation resolution he was pushing through the Security Council by diverting to Iran.

In the end, Mr. Obama stood on the floor of the Pittsburgh Convention Center on Friday morning, flanked by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, and called the Iranian facility “a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.”

Added Mr. Brown, “The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.”

This account of the days leading up to the announcement on Friday is based on interviews with administration officials and American allies, all of whom want the story known to help support their case against Iran.

The Iranians have continued to assert that their nuclear program has peaceful intentions. And while American officials say the secretive nature of the program lends support to the view that it is truly an expanding weapons program, even United States intelligence officials acknowledge that there is no evidence that Iran has taken the final steps toward creating a bomb.

There was “a fair amount at anger” within the administration over Iran’s disclosure, a senior administration official said. But there was also some satisfaction. A second senior official said: “Everybody’s been asking, ‘Where’s our leverage?’ Well, now we just got that leverage.”

Administration officials said that Mr. Obama had two goals in going public: to directly confront Iran with the evidence, and to persuade wavering nations to take a hard line on Iran.

In fact, the makings of the administration’s strategy was hatched months before, when the White House first came to believe that the complex, built into a mountain on property near Qum controlled by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, might be a part of the nuclear program. Over time, the file that intelligence officials accumulated on the facility developed as a cudgel, a way to win over wary allies and test if the Iranians were being truthful in their disclosures.

Senior intelligence officials said Friday that several years ago American intelligence agencies under the administration of George W. Bush discovered the suspicious site. The site was one of Iran’s most closely guarded secrets, the officials said, known only by senior members of Iran’s nuclear establishment. The officials said that housing the complex on the base gave it an extra layer of security.

Mr. Obama was first told about the existence of the covert site during his transition period in late 2008, White House officials said, after he had been elected but before he was inaugurated. But it was not until earlier this year that American spy agencies detected the movement of sensitive equipment into the facility — a sign, they believed, that whatever work was involved was nearing its final stages.

American officials said Friday that the facility could have been fully operational by next year, with up to 3,000 centrifuges capable of producing one weapon’s worth of highly enriched nuclear material per year.

“Over the course of early this year, the intelligence community and our liaison partners became increasingly confident that the site was indeed a uranium enrichment facility,” a senior administration official said. He said that Mr. Obama received regular intelligence updates on the progress of the site.

The officials said that they developed a detailed picture about work on the facility from multiple human intelligence sources, as well as satellite imagery. A senior official said that intelligence was regularly shared among American, British and French spy agencies, and that Israeli officials were told about the complex years ago. They were not more specific about when they first learned about it.

At some point in late spring, American officials became aware that Iranian operatives had learned that the site was being monitored, the officials said.

As the administration reviewed its Iran policy in April, Mr. Obama told aides at one point that if the United States entered into talks with Iran, he wanted to make sure “all the facts were on the table early, including information on this site — so that negotiations would be meaningful and transparent,” a senior administration official said.

As the summer progressed, British, French and American officials grew more worried about what Iran might do now that it was aware that security at the complex had been breached.

In late July, after the mass protests over Iran’s disputed election had died down, Mr. Obama told his national security team to have American intelligence officials work with their British and French counterparts to secretly put together a detailed presentation on the complex.

“That brief would be deployed in the case of a number of contingencies,” the administration official said. “If Iran refused to negotiate, in the case of a leak of the information, and even an Iranian disclosure.” Mr. Obama asked his aides to have the presentation ready by the General Assembly meeting.

“We could not have negotiations of any meaning if we were only going to talk about overt sites and not covert sites,” a senior administration official said.

As late as last weekend, American officials were still uncertain about when to publicly present the intelligence about the secret enrichment facility. The game plan changed Tuesday, when officials from the nuclear watchdog agency informed the Americans that Iran had sent the letter describing the “pilot” facility.

At his meeting at the Waldorf the next morning, Mr. Obama decided that he would personally tell Mr. Medvedev, the Russian president, when they met Wednesday afternoon for a previously scheduled meeting. Mr. Obama also spoke with Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Brown. Meanwhile, Jeff Bader, a senior White House adviser for China, informed his Chinese counterparts.

On Thursday, while Mr. Obama was leading the Security Council meeting, General Jones left his seat behind Mr. Obama, walked over to Mr. Prikhodko, the Russian national security adviser, and whispered in his ear. Mr. Prikhodko got up and followed General Jones out of the room. Minutes later, General Jones sent an aide back to get his Chinese counterpart as well.

Administration officials said they were gratified with Russia’s reaction — Mr. Medvedev signaled he would be amenable to tougher sanctions on Iran. The Chinese, one administration official said, were more skeptical, and said they wanted to look at the intelligence, and to see what international inspectors said when they investigated.

The lessons of the Iraq war still lingered.

“They don’t want to buy a pig in a poke,” the senior administration official said.

 

Helene Cooper reported from Pittsburgh, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.

    Cryptic Iranian Note Ignited an Urgent Nuclear Strategy Debate, NYT, 26.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/26/world/middleeast/26intel.html

 

 

 

 

 

Iran Is Warned Over Nuclear ‘Deception’

 

September 26, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER and HELENE COOPER

 

PITTSBURGH — President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.

Appearing before reporters in Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, appearing beside Mr. Obama, said that Iran had a deadline of two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions.

“The level of deception by the Iranian government, and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments, will shock and anger the entire international community,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain said, standing beside Mr. Obama and Mr. Sarkozy. “The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.”

The extraordinary and hastily arranged joint appearance by the three leaders — and Mr. Obama said that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had asked him to convey that she stood with them as well — adds urgency to the diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its suspected ambition to build a nuclear weapons capacity. The three men demanded that Iran allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an immediate inspection of the facility, which is said to be 100 miles southwest of Tehran, near the holy city of Qum.

American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to disclose the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the complex. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.

In a statement from its headquarters in Vienna on Friday, the atomic agency confirmed that it had been told on Monday by Iran that “a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country.” The I.A.E.A. said it had requested more information about the plant and access to it as soon as possible. “The agency also understands from Iran that no nuclear material has been introduced into the facility,” the statement said.

Hours after Mr. Obama’s announcement, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, confirmed that Iran was building a “semi-industrial enrichment fuel facility,” designed to produce nuclear fuel that it had not previously announced to international authorities, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

Mr. Salehi defended the newly disclosed facility, saying that it was currently under construction and “its activities were within the framework of International Atomic Energy Agency’s regulations,” ISNA said. But as described by American and European officials, the facility is too small to be of industrial use, and was designed specifically to be concealed.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said nothing about the plant during his visit this week to the United Nations, where he repeated his contention that Iran had cooperated fully with inspectors and that allegations of a nuclear weapons program are fabrications. In a Thursday statement, the Iranian mission to the United Nations called such allegations “preposterous.”

The newly discovered enrichment plant is not yet in operation, American officials said, but could be by next year. A senior Western official characterized the facility as “excavation, tunneling, infrastructure for centrifuges.”

Mr. Obama’s announcement will probably overshadow the meeting of the Group of 20, whose leaders have gathered to plan the next steps in combating the global financial crisis. Instead, here and during the opening of the United Nations in New York, senior officials from several of the countries were pulled aside for briefings on the new intelligence and for strategy sessions about the first direct talks with Iran in 30 years — set for Thursday — that will include the United States.

American officials said they expected the announcement to make it easier to build a case for international sanctions if Iran blocked inspectors or refused to halt its nuclear program.

“They have cheated three times,” one senior administration official with access to the intelligence said of the Iranians late on Thursday evening. “And they have now been caught three times.”

The official was referring to information unearthed by an Iranian dissident group that led to the discovery of the underground plant at Natanz in 2002, and evidence developed two years ago — after Iran’s computer networks were pierced by American intelligence agencies — that the country had secretly sought to design a nuclear warhead. American officials believe that effort was halted in late 2003.

After months of talking about the need for engagement, Mr. Obama appears to have made a leap toward viewing tough new sanctions against Iran as an inevitability. He avoided Mr. Ahmadinejad at the United Nations this week, despite his having said repeatedly that he would seek dialogue with Iranian leaders. Instead, Mr. Obama spent much of his time in New York pressing the case, particularly to Russia and China, for sterner Security Council measures to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

For years, American intelligence officials have searched for a site where Iran could enrich uranium in secret, far from the inspectors who now regularly monitor activity at Natanz. A highly classified Bush-era intelligence report identifies more than a dozen suspected nuclear sites around the country — some for building centrifuges and other equipment, others for designing weapons or testing explosives.

Administration officials could not immediately say if the new site, built inside a mountain within a military complex near the ancient city of Qum, one of the holiest Shiite cities in the Middle East, is on that list.

In Washington, officials said that intelligence agencies first became aware a few years ago of suspicious work at a secret underground facility on the base, which is controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful arm of the Iranian military. They said they had developed excellent access to multiple sources of intelligence about the site, but would not be more specific.

The senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity at a briefing arranged by the White House immediately following the announcement in Pittsburgh, said that their concerns about the site grew as they learned of the installation of particular equipment there in recent months.

Their information suggested that the site could support some 3,000 centrifuges for enriching nuclear fuel, and their assessment was that this was too small to be useful for civilian nuclear power, but big enough to be used, once it became operational, for making enough bomb-grade material for about one weapon a year.

They said the plant could not have become operational before next year, and that there was no sign of nuclear materials yet at the site. They said that at some point earlier this year the Iranians appeared to have learned that their activities had been discovered, which may have led to Monday’s disclosure.

In their brief, vague letter to the I.A.E.A. on Monday, Iran told the agency the new plant would enrich uranium to a level of 5 percent — high enough for nuclear fuel, but not nearly enough to make the fissile material for an atomic bomb. Iran assured the agency in its letter that “further complementary information will be provided in an appropriate and due time,” the agency said on Friday.

The enrichment program appears to run on a separate track from the weapons design program, in part because the Iranians claim the enrichment is solely for the purpose of producing fuel for nuclear power plants. To construct centrifuges, Iran has had to buy specialty parts abroad, and at times in the past, American, German and Israeli intelligence agencies have intercepted shipments, in one case diverting crucial parts to American weapons labs before sending them on to Iran. It is very possible that infiltration of the supply network contributed to the discovery in Qum.

Officials said that Mr. Obama was first briefed on Iran’s project before he became president, as part of the detailed intelligence reports provided by the director of national intelligence at the time, Mike McConnell. Mr. Obama has received updated intelligence on it “several times,” one senior aide said Thursday evening.

In advance of Friday morning’s announcement, Mr. Obama sent top intelligence officials to brief the atomic agency’s chief inspector, Olli Heinonen. Other American diplomats and intelligence officials shared their findings with China, Russia and Germany, all important players in the negotiations with Iran.

Earlier this week, Mr. Obama’s discussions with President Hu Jintao of China on Tuesday and his meeting with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Wednesday focused largely on Iran, administration officials said. During his meeting with Mr. Medvedev in particular, Mr. Obama pressed his case, expressing pessimism that talks scheduled for next week with the Iranians over the nuclear issue would yield much progress, administration officials said.

“The president made clear that while he was willing to engage, he was also clear-eyed about the prospects of that engagement,” a senior administration official said.

Mr. Obama had, by that point, made a giant step toward getting Russia more amenable to the idea of sanctions against Iran — something Moscow does not like — by announcing last week that he was replacing President George W. Bush’s missile defense with a version less threatening to Moscow. That issue, one administration official said, completely changed the dynamic during Mr. Obama’s meeting with Mr. Medvedev.

While it is unclear whether Mr. Obama briefed Mr. Medvedev about the Qum facility during that meeting at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the two leaders nonetheless emerged with Mr. Medvedev promising, for the first time publicly, that Russia would be amenable to tougher sanctions.

One administration official said that the United States was hoping that with Russia agreeing to tougher sanctions, China would follow. Mr. Obama is planning to visit Beijing and Shanghai in early November, just around the same time that a sanctions resolution is expected to be introduced at the Security Council.

 

Reporting was contributed by Nazila Fathi, Sharon Otterman and Mark Landler from New York, Mark Mazetti from Washington and Alan Cowell from Paris.

    Iran Is Warned Over Nuclear ‘Deception’, NYT, 26.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/26/world/middleeast/26nuke.html

 

 

 

 

 

Iran Said to Have Covert Nuclear Facility

 

September 26, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER and HELENE COOPER

 

PITTSBURGH — President Obama and the leaders of Britain and France will accuse Iran Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years, according to senior administration officials.

The revelation, which the three leaders will make before the opening of the Group of 20 economic summit here, appears bound to add urgency to the diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its suspected ambitions to build a nuclear weapons capacity. Mr. Obama, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, will demand that Iran allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an immediate inspection of the facility, which is said to be 100 miles southwest of Tehran.

American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.

In a statement from its headquarters in Vienna on Friday, the atomic agency confirmed that it had been told Monday by Iran that “a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country.”

The agency said it had requested more information about the plant and access to it as soon as possible. “The agency also understands from Iran that no nuclear material has been introduced into the facility,” said the statement said.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said nothing about the plant during his visit this week to the United Nations, where he repeated his contention that Iran had cooperated fully with inspectors, and that allegations of a nuclear weapons program are fabrications.

The newly discovered enrichment plant is not yet in operation, American officials said, but could be next year.

Mr. Obama’s planned announcement with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, due to take place at 8:30 a.m. in Pittsburgh, will probably overshadow the meeting of the Group of 20, whose leaders have gathered to plan the next steps in combating the global financial crisis. Instead, here and during the opening of the United Nations in New York, senior officials from several of the countries were pulled aside for briefings on the new intelligence and for strategy sessions about the first direct talks with Iran in 30 years that will include the United States.

American officials said they expected the announcement would put the Iranians on the defensive, and that it would make it easier to build a case for international sanctions against the country if it blocks inspectors or refuses to halt its nuclear program.

“They have cheated three times,” one senior administration official with access to the intelligence said of the Iranians late on Thursday evening. “And they have now been caught three times.”

The official was referring to the revelations by an Iranian dissident group that led to the discovery of the underground plant at Natanz in 2002, and the evidence developed two years ago — after Iran’s computer networks were pierced by American intelligence agencies — that the country had secretly sought to design a nuclear warhead. That effort is believed by American officials to have been ordered halted in late 2003.

Mr. Obama appears to have crossed a psychological threshold on Iran, and in recent days he appears to have made a leap toward viewing tough new sanctions against Iran as an inevitability, after months of talking about the need for engagement.

Mr. Obama avoided President Ahmadinejad at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly this week, despite promises made during the presidential campaign and after he came into office that he would seek dialogue with Iranian leaders. Instead, Mr. Obama spent much of his time in New York pressing the case to leaders, particularly those of Russia and China, that time had run out for Iran and that the Security Council would soon need to impose tougher sanctions to seek to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

For years, American intelligence officials have searched for a hidden site where Iran could enrich uranium in secret, far from the inspectors who now regularly monitor activity at a far larger plant at Natanz. A highly classified chapter of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons work that was provided to the Bush administration identifies more than a dozen suspected nuclear sites around the country — some for building centrifuges and other equipment, others for designing weapons or testing explosives. Administration officials could not immediately say if this site, built inside a mountain near the ancient city of Qum, one of the holiest Shiite cities in the Middle East, is included in that list.

The facility is not complete, though American officials said late on Thursday night that they believe it was designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium for nuclear power plants — or, with additional enrichment, for bombs. That would be just enough centrifuges to manufacture about one bomb’s worth of material a year, though it is unclear whether any of the centrifuges have been installed or turned on.

The I.A.E.A. statement said Iran had told the agency the new plant would enrich uranium to a level of 5 percent —high enough for nuclear fuel, but not nearly enough to make the fissile material for an atomic bomb. Iran assured the agency that “further complementary information will be provided in an appropriate and due time,” the I.A.E.A. said.

American officials, citing the sensitivity of their intelligence gathering on Iran, declined to say what kind of intelligence break — human spies, computer or telephone intercepts or overhead photography — led to their discovery. But parts of the computer networks belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were pierced in 2007, leading to the intelligence finding that that Iranian engineers, working under Mohsen Fakrizadeh, had tried to design a nuclear weapon before the effort ended in 2003. Israel and some European intelligence agencies argue that the work resumed later.

The enrichment program appears to run on a separate track from the weapons design program, in part because the Iranians claim the enrichment is solely for the purpose of producing fuel for nuclear power plants. To construct centrifuges, Iran has had to buy specialty parts abroad, and at times in the past, American, German and Israeli intelligence agencies have intercepted shipments, in one case diverting crucial parts to American weapons labs before sending them on to Iran. It is very possible that infiltration of the supply network contributed to the discovery in Qum.

Still, accusing a country of building a secret facility can be risky. The Clinton administration accused North Korea of having an underground nuclear facility in 1998; by the time American inspectors were let in, the facility had been cleaned out and its exact role in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program remains a mystery today. President George W. Bush famously accused Saddam Hussein in 2002 of seeking to restart Iraq’s nuclear program, but was never able to produce any persuasive evidence that he had done so.

Iran is a different kind of case: Inspectors have been in and out of the country for several years, always assured by Iran that it had come clean about its facilities after hiding them for nearly 18 years. Thus, the newly discovered facility could be difficult for Iran to explain: It is too small to be used efficiently to produce fuel for power plants, and appears to have been designed in such a way that its operations could be hidden.

Mr. Obama was first briefed on Iran’s project before he became president, as part of the detailed intelligence reports provided by the then-director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. Mr. Obama has received updated intelligence on it “several times,” one senior aide said Thursday evening.

In advance of Friday morning’s announcement, Mr. Obama sent top intelligence officials to brief the I.A.E.A.’s chief inspector, Olli Heinonen. Other American diplomats and intelligence officials shared their findings with China, Russia and Germany, all important players in the negotiations with Iran.

Earlier this week, Mr. Obama’s discussions with President Hu Jintao of China on Tuesday and his meeting with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Wednesday focused largely on Iran, administration officials said. During his meeting with Mr. Medvedev in particular, Mr. Obama pressed his case, expressing pessimism that talks scheduled for next week with the Iranians over the nuclear issue would yield much progress, administration officials said.

“The president made clear that while he was willing to engage, he was also clear-eyed about the prospects of that engagement,” a senior administration official said.

Mr. Obama had, by that point, made a giant step toward getting Russia more amenable to the idea of sanctions against Iran — something Moscow does not like — by announcing last week that he was replacing President George W. Bush’s missile defense with a version less threatening to Moscow. That issue, one administration official said, completely changed the dynamic during Mr. Obama’s meeting with Mr. Medvedev.

While it is unclear whether Mr. Obama briefed Mr. Medvedev about the Qum facility during that meeting at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the two leaders nonetheless emerged with Mr. Medvedev promising, for the first time publicly, that Russia would be amenable to tougher sanctions.

And on Thursday, in Pittsburgh, Mr. Medvedev reiterated his stance. “When all instruments have been used and failed, one can use international legal sanctions,” Mr. Medvedev told students at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think we should continue to promote positive incentives for Iran and at the same time push it to make all its programs transparent and open. Should we fail in that case, we’ll consider other options.”

One administration official said that the United States was hoping that with Russia on board the idea of tougher sanctions, China would follow. Mr. Obama is planning to visit Beijing and Shanghai in early November, just around the same time that a sanctions resolution is expected to be introduced at the Security Council.

It is a far cry from the time when Mr. Obama first made waves with his views on Iran policy, back in 2007, when he said during a Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C., that he would, as president, be willing to meet without preconditions with Iran’s leaders, and that the notion of not talking to one’s foes was “ridiculous.”

Indeed, he came into office and made a series of overtures to the Iranian regime, sending a videotaped message in the spring to wish the regime and the Iranian people a Happy Nowruz, or new year, lifting restrictions on American diplomats’ interactions with their Iranian counterparts and sending two letters to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging warmer relations between America and Iran after 30 years of enmity.

“The response we got was, shall we say, chilling,” one administration official said. In particular, the Iranian government’s handling of the presidential elections in June solidified the belief among Mr. Obama’s top Iran officials that it was time to toughen up on the country, the official said.

 

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.

    Iran Said to Have Covert Nuclear Facility, NYT, 26.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/26/world/middleeast/26nuke.html

 

 

 

 

 

Security Council Adopts Nuclear Arms Measure

 

September 25, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER

 

PITTSBURGH — President Obama moved Thursday to tighten the noose around Iran, North Korea and other nations that have exploited gaping loopholes in the patchwork of global nuclear regulations. He pushed through a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would, if enforced, make it more difficult to turn peaceful nuclear programs into weapons projects.

But as Mr. Obama sat in New York as chairman of the Security Council — a first for an American president, meant to symbolize his commitment to rebuilding the Council’s tattered authority — he received a taste of the opposition he is likely to face on some of his nuclear initiatives.

Some developing and nonnuclear nations bridled at the idea of Security Council mandates and talked of a “nuclear free zone” in the Middle East. That is widely recognized as a code phrase for requiring Israel to give up its unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.

The Security Council meeting was the last major business at the United Nations before Mr. Obama arrived here for an economic summit meeting of the Group of 20. It capped three days of intensive diplomacy leading up to the first direct negotiations with Iran in decades that will involve a representative of the United States, scheduled for next Thursday.

But Mr. Obama used the meeting to broaden the issue, hoping to stop an incipient arms race in the region and rewrite outdated treaties, starting with a review of the 1972 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty next year.

“This is not about singling out an individual nation,” Mr. Obama said. “International law is not an empty promise, and treaties must be enforced.”

Yet Iran was the subtext of every conversation.

At the end of Mr. Obama’s three days of public and private arm-twisting, it was still unclear how many other leaders were committed to what the White House once called “crippling sanctions” against Iran if it continued making nuclear fuel and refused to respond to questions about evidence it worked on the design of a nuclear weapon.

Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, sounded more open to supporting sanctions at a meeting with Mr. Obama in New York. But that position seemed at odds with statements last week by Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who regularly angered President George W. Bush for his refusal to sign on to sanctions that might seize the attention of Iran’s ruling elite.

Mr. Medvedev spoke generally, and did not embrace any specific ideas for sanctions, including discussion of cutting off Iran’s access to refined gasoline imports.

More mysterious is whether Mr. Obama persuaded China’s president, Hu Jintao.

“We’ve been trying to convince him that if this gets out of control, China’s own interests — especially in oil — will be hurt, so they better get involved,” one senior aide to Mr. Obama said.

But Mr. Hu talked instead at Thursday’s meetings of arms cuts among the major powers, noting that China possesses only “the minimum number of nuclear weapons” needed for its own security.

And while the White House celebrated the passage of a new Security Council resolution that “encouraged” countries to enforce new restrictions on the transfer of nuclear material and technology, the measure stopped well short of authorizing forced inspections of countries believed to be developing weapons.

In that regard, the resolution was less specific, as well as less stringent, than the last broad nuclear resolution passed, in 2004 under President Bush, known as Resolution 1540. That resolution required countries to secure their nuclear materials and supplies, and pass laws restricting their export.

“Today’s resolution had a different purpose,” said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. “It was intended to win unanimous political support for remaking the nonproliferation treaty, strengthening inspections and getting everyone behind the idea of securing all nuclear materials in four years. And they got that agreement.”

Mr. Obama accomplished that goal in part by acknowledging that the United States was part of the nuclear problem and would have to accept limits on its own arsenal — steps Mr. Bush always rejected. Mr. Obama committed to winning Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which President Bill Clinton could not get through the Senate, and acknowledged that the United States had an obligation under the treaty to move toward elimination of its own arsenal. The Bush administration had argued that this was dangerous in the extreme.

The test ban treaty appears bound for tremendous resistance in the Senate, where it was narrowly defeated during the Clinton administration.

The divisions on how to regulate nuclear trafficking appeared clear during the Security Council session as the leaders of nuclear-armed and nonnuclear states, in scripted remarks, described very different agendas.

Two of Mr. Obama’s closest allies in the confrontation with Iran, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, told the Security Council that if Iran continued to flout resolutions ordering it to halt its nuclear work, the Security Council would have little credibility.

Mr. Sarkozy was particularly passionate, arguing that years of gradually escalating sanctions against Iran resulted only in “more enriched uranium, more centrifuges, and a declaration” by Iranian leaders to “wipe a U.N. member state off the map,” a reference to Israel. He cited North Korea as a case of international failure, a country that has been the subject of Security Council resolutions since 1993, and in that time has conducted two nuclear tests and harvested enough nuclear fuel for what American intelligence agencies estimate could be 8 to 12 weapons.

Iran, in a statement a few hours after the Council meeting adjourned, rejected Mr. Sarkozy’s claim that it was seeking weapons.

The session was capped with a plea from the departing chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, who told the Security Council that the world’s nuclear inspectors were working from a paltry budget, with outdated equipment and with insufficient powers to compel inspections.

“We often cannot verify whether a nation is pursuing weapons capability,” he complained.

Missing from the Security Council event was Israel. But its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told the General Assembly this week that “the most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge?”

Left unsaid was the possibility that if negotiations and sanctions fail, Israel might seek to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, a possibility Mr. Obama has been trying to head off. But at the same time, his representatives in New York were clearly using the possibility to political advantage, hoping it could spur the Security Council to action.

 

Andrew Jacobs contributed reporting from Beijing and David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Boston.

    Security Council Adopts Nuclear Arms Measure, NYT, 25.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/world/25prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Makes Gains at U.N. on Iran and Proliferation

 

September 24, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER

 

UNITED NATIONS — President Obama, in his first visit to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, made progress Wednesday on two key issues, wringing a concession from Russia to consider tough new sanctions against Iran and securing support from Moscow and Beijing for a Security Council resolution to curb nuclear weapons.

The successes came as Mr. Obama told leaders that the United States intended to begin a new era of engagement with the world, in a sweeping address to the General Assembly in which he sought to clearly delineate differences between himself and the administration of President George W. Bush.

One of the fruits of those differences — although White House officials were loath to acknowledge any quid pro quo publicly — emerged during Mr. Obama’s meeting on Wednesday afternoon with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, the first between the two since Mr. Obama decided to replace Mr. Bush’s missile defense program in Eastern Europe with a version less threatening to Moscow.

With a beaming Mr. Obama standing next to him, Mr. Medvedev signaled for the first time that Russia would be amenable to longstanding American requests to toughen sanctions against Iran significantly if, as expected, nuclear talks scheduled for next month failed to make progress.

“I told His Excellency Mr. President that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Mr. Medvedev said, adding that “sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”

White House officials could barely hide their glee. “I couldn’t have said it any better myself,” a delighted Michael McFaul, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser for democracy and Russia, told reporters after the meeting. He insisted nonetheless that the administration had not tried to buy Russia’s cooperation with its decision to scrap the missile shield in Europe in favor of a reconfigured system.

Privately, several administration officials did acknowledge that missile defense might have had something to do with Moscow’s newfound verbal cooperation on the Iran sanctions issue.

Whether Mr. Medvedev’s words translate into strong action once the issue moves back to the Security Council remains to be seen. American officials have been disappointed before by Moscow’s distaste for tough sanctions, and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin seemed to cast doubt on the need for stronger sanctions just last week. But Mr. Obama also got another boost from Russia, as well as from China, when they agreed to support strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in a Security Council session scheduled for Thursday.

In an effort to lay the groundwork for toughening the treaty, the Obama administration circulated drafts of a resolution that “urges” countries to put conditions on their nuclear exports, so that international inspectors would be authorized to continue monitoring the use of some nuclear materials even if a country withdrew from the nonproliferation pact. That is a rare occurrence, but North Korea declared it was withdrawing in 2003, and inspectors were thrown out.

The Obama administration hailed the pending resolution as a significant step forward. But it would not be binding, and would become so only if the Security Council required countries to make their nuclear exports subject to such restrictions. Many countries balked at that requirement, an indication of how difficult it may prove to toughen the treaty itself when it is up for review next year.

Mr. Obama will preside over the Security Council meeting on Thursday, and is expected to call for a vote on the draft resolution. White House officials said they expected the measure to pass unanimously.

During his address to the General Assembly, Mr. Obama sought to present a kinder, gentler America willing to make nice with the world. He suggested that the United States would no longer follow the go-it-alone policies that many United Nations members complained isolated the Bush administration from the organization.

“We have re-engaged the United Nations,” Mr. Obama said, to cheers from world leaders and delegates in the cavernous hall. “We have paid our bills” — a direct reference to the former administration’s practice of withholding some payment due the world body while it pressed for changes there.

But even as Mr. Obama sought to signal a different tone, it was clear that old, entrenched issues would remain, including Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a Middle East peace process. And while much of his language was different and more conciliatory, the backbone of American policy on some issues remained similar to the Bush administration’s.

As Mr. Bush used to do before him, for instance, Mr. Obama singled out Iran and North Korea, which he said “threaten to take us down this dangerous slope.”

“I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and a more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations,” Mr. Obama said.

But, he added, “if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East — then they must be held accountable.”

As he spoke, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sat in the fifth row, showing no reaction.

But a glittering array of world leaders sat in the hall for Mr. Obama’s speech, which was often interrupted by applause and the flashes of cameras, including from some delegates.

Mr. Obama said he planned to work toward a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and its Arab neighbors. He indicated again that he was impatient with the slow pace of work on interim measures like a settlement freeze. He called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to address the tough “final status” issues that had bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979.

“The goal is clear,” he said, “two states living side by side in peace and security.”

But the difficulty of achieving that goal was also on full display on Wednesday, one day after Mr. Obama held meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and admonished them to meet in person and negotiate a peace deal. The two Middle Eastern leaders and their spokesmen spent much of the day Wednesday explaining why that could not happen soon.

In an interview on NBC, Mr. Netanyahu called Israeli settlements “bedroom suburbs” of Jerusalem and suggested Israel would not withdraw from all the territory it occupied after the 1967 Middle East war. Meanwhile, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told The Associated Press that the two sides will “continue dealing with the Americans until we reach the agreement that will enable us to relaunch the negotiations.”

 

David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Boston.

    Obama Makes Gains at U.N. on Iran and Proliferation, NYT, 24.9.2009? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/24/world/24prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Good Will, but Few Policy Benefits for Obama

 

September 20, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER

 

WASHINGTON — As President Obama welcomes world leaders to the United States this week, he has gone a long way toward meeting his goal of restoring the country’s international standing. Foreign counterparts flock to meet with him, and polls show that people in many countries feel much better about the United States.

But eight months after his inauguration, all that good will so far has translated into limited tangible policy benefits for Mr. Obama. As much as they may prefer to deal with Mr. Obama instead of his predecessor, George W. Bush, foreign leaders have not gone out of their way to give him what he has sought.

European allies still refuse to send significantly more troops to Afghanistan. The Saudis basically ignored Mr. Obama’s request for concessions to Israel, while Israel rebuffed his demand to stop settlement expansion. North Korea defied him by testing a nuclear weapon. Japan elected a party less friendly to the United States. Cuba has done little to liberalize in response to modest relaxation of sanctions. India and China are resisting a climate change deal. And Russia rejected new sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program even as Mr. Obama heads into talks with Tehran.

For an administration whose officials regularly boast of having what they call “the best brand in the world,” there is what Stephen Sestanovich calls growing “frustration with what other countries are prepared to contribute to advancing supposedly common interests.” Personal relations are important, said Mr. Sestanovich, a former Clinton administration ambassador with ties to the current team, but national interests still dominate. “That’s what American presidents generally discover,” he said.

James K. Glassman, who served as Mr. Bush’s last under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and now leads the former president’s new research institute, said popularity only went so far. “I wouldn’t say it’s not important to be well liked. It is important. But there are other factors involved,” he said. “What you need to do is find out where you have mutual interests.”

Whether Mr. Obama can use his international regard to promote those mutual interests remains a major challenge as he hosts world leaders at the opening session of the United Nations and then at an economic summit meeting in Pittsburgh later in the week. Attention has focused on whether Russia will reciprocate for Mr. Obama’s decision to replace Mr. Bush’s missile defense program in Europe with a version less threatening to Moscow.

Although the White House denied that its decision was made to curry favor with the Kremlin, it took some satisfaction in comments by Russian leaders suggesting more flexibility. Obama advisers pointed to a few specific areas where they have won concessions from other countries. Russia, for example, has agreed to a framework for nuclear arms cuts and gave permission for American troops to fly to Afghanistan through its airspace.

Moreover, the Obama advisers said they had gotten strong cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda, particularly from Pakistan, which has led to a string of successful capture-or-kill missions against what they call high-value targets, like the top Taliban leader in Pakistan and the son of Osama bin Laden.

“The fact is that all countries, including our own, are going to act on their own interests,” said Denis McDonough, the president’s deputy national security adviser. Mr. Obama “will continue over the course of the next week to work with countries to identify common interests to address common threats,” said Mr. McDonough, who added: “He never indicated this would be easy. But given the stakes involved, he believes it’s worth the effort.”

Surveys by the Pew Research Center quantify how America’s standing in many parts of the world has improved significantly since Mr. Obama’s election. In Germany, 64 percent of people interviewed this year expressed favorable views of the United States, up from 31 percent a year ago. In Indonesia, 63 percent approve of America compared with 37 percent last year.

France, Britain, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Nigeria and other countries likewise saw double-digit increases, while smaller increases were registered in India, South Korea, Japan and China. But Arab countries saw more modest changes, and countries like Russia, Turkey, Poland and Pakistan were largely unmoved.

A survey of Europe released by the German Marshall Fund of the United States this month documented that Mr. Obama is even more popular. While just 19 percent of Europeans interviewed in that survey a year ago supported Mr. Bush’s handling of international affairs, 77 percent approved of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy. More than 90 percent of Germans had a favorable view of Mr. Obama, an 80 percentage point increase over Mr. Bush.

But Craig Kennedy, the fund’s president, said there was an inevitable disconnect because Europeans seemed to view Mr. Obama as more European in his sensibilities than his policies actually are. “I suspect that, as real political decisions have to be made, we will see “Obama Euphoria” fade as the Europeans begin to see him more as an American and less like themselves,” he wrote last week.

Mr. Obama’s trouble winning support in some areas overseas reflects the disparate views of him and his policies.

“The problem is he’s asking for roughly the same things President Bush asked for and President Bush didn’t get them, not because he was a boorish diplomat or a cowboy,” said Peter D. Feaver, a former adviser to Mr. Bush now at Duke University. “If that were the case, bringing in the sophisticated, urbane President Obama would have solved the problem. President Bush didn’t get them because these countries had good reasons for not giving them.”

In other words, Russia’s national interests did not change just because Mr. Obama arrived on the scene. India and China still worry about the economic impact of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Europeans may like Mr. Obama but most of them still oppose the war in Afghanistan.

Still, Mr. Obama has shown in the past that he can play for the long term. Advisers and supporters see hope that he can eventually bring Israelis and Arabs together, forge a working relationship with Russia even if not a friendship, reach consensus with allies on Iran and North Korea and build a coalition to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. This new atmosphere, they argue, will ultimately pay dividends.

“Obama’s early foreign policy steps have been good and appropriate for this country, whether or not they enlist the support of others,” said Robert Hutchings, a former diplomat now at Princeton University. He argued that Mr. Obama’s approach had “laid the groundwork” for “real breakthroughs” in the not-too-distant future.

    Good Will, but Few Policy Benefits for Obama, NYT, 20.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/us/politics/20prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Lack of Progress in Mideast Defies Obama’s Hopes

 

September 19, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER and ETHAN BRONNER

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama had hoped to go to his first United Nations meeting next week with at least one diplomatic coup: a plan to restart the long-stalled Middle East peace talks, to be announced in a three-way meeting with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

But after a fruitless week of shuttle diplomacy, his special envoy, George J. Mitchell, returned to the United States on Friday night without an agreement on freezing construction of Jewish settlements and amid fresh signs of differences on the basis for peace negotiations. Mr. Obama now faces the prospect of a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, that some say will be little more than a photo opportunity, one that will only underscore how elusive an Arab-Israeli peace agreement is.

The failure of Mr. Mitchell to nail down an agreement with Israel on freezing settlements, which the administration views as vital for successful talks, does not mean that Mr. Obama will not ultimately succeed. Some experts predict that Mr. Netanyahu, a shrewd negotiator, will strike a deal directly with the president, though that seems unlikely to happen before world leaders gather Wednesday for the United Nations General Assembly.

But Mr. Mitchell’s travails — he also faces resistance from Arab countries in making diplomatic gestures toward Israel — show that on yet another front Mr. Obama’s policy of engagement is proving to be a hard sell. If an agreement just to start talking is out of reach, hammering out the details of a comprehensive peace deal seems all the more daunting.

During his weeklong visit to the Middle East, people briefed on the talks said, Mr. Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, found substantial differences between the sides, even on issues that had been agreed upon in previous negotiations, like the basic configuration of Israel’s borders and whether the status of Jerusalem should be included in peace talks.

The State Department declined to comment on the details of Mr. Mitchell’s discussions, though a spokesman, Ian C. Kelly, acknowledged that the trip had failed to produce a breakthrough.

“Of course we hoped to have an agreement,” Mr. Kelly said. “Of course we were hoping for some kind of breakthrough. But this is going to be — again, it’s going to be — it’s going to demand a lot of patience. And the U.S. is ready to stay patient and stay engaged.”

Other senior administration officials say they do not view their inability to announce a new round of talks next week as a setback. They say that Mr. Obama expected this to be a lengthy, grueling process, and that Mr. Mitchell has already moved Mr. Netanyahu a long way toward accepting some form of freeze and Arab countries toward considering conciliatory measures toward Israel.

“Given the situation we confronted in January 2009, the amount of progress Senator Mitchell has made in nine months is remarkable,” said a White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor.

In a speech Friday at the Brookings Institution, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “I can guarantee you that President Obama and I are very patient and very determined.”

Still, it was telling that in listing the Obama administration’s priorities for the General Assembly, Mrs. Clinton did not even mention the Middle East, focusing instead on nuclear nonproliferation, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other issues. She mentioned the need for a “comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians” at the end of a wide-ranging address.

American and Palestinian officials said there were two sets of problems, the first dealing with the length and extent of an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and the second dealing with the basis for the negotiations themselves.

“If one or the other had worked, if the freeze had been broader or if the terms for negotiation had been broader, that would have been enough to get the ball rolling,” an aide to Mr. Mitchell said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. “But with gaps over both, we have to keep working.”

Mr. Mitchell met twice on Friday with Mr. Netanyahu after two meetings with Mr. Abbas. An aide to Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel was willing to restart negotiations immediately, so the difficulty lay not with Israel but with the Palestinians.

The Netanyahu aide said that the gaps involved not only what Israel could give — a settlement freeze and agreeing that a two-state solution would be based on certain borders — but also what Arab states would give in return as confidence-building measures. The United States is pushing Arab countries to allow Israel to reopen trade missions in those countries and to allow Israeli airlines to fly over their territory.

The Americans and Palestinians have been pushing Israel to agree to freeze settlement building entirely as evidence of its seriousness about peace talks. The settlements are on land that the Palestinians want for their future state. But Mr. Netanyahu has declined to do so, saying only that he would be willing to reduce or slow building.

He plans to finish construction on 2,500 units and recently authorized starting another 500.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that without a freeze in advance, negotiations were pointless.

If Mr. Obama does go ahead with a meeting at the United Nations, officials said he would push both sides hard to yield more. But they predicted that Mr. Mitchell would have to continue his shuttles.

“They can have a photo opportunity, but they can’t announce the resumption of talks,” Mr. Erekat said by phone after Mr. Mitchell’s meeting with Mr. Abbas. “They will try again next month.”

 

Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.

    Lack of Progress in Mideast Defies Obama’s Hopes, NYT, 19.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/19/world/middleeast/19diplo.html

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

Voices Across the Mideast Divide

 

September 16, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

Re “Squandering the Moment” (editorial, Sept. 15):

In criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to build new settlements, you say, “That may play well in Israeli polls, but it has given Arab leaders a powerful excuse to do nothing.”

For Mr. Netanyahu, it is not merely polls that he has to worry about but his governing coalition. His announcement of a partial settlement freeze has already shaken some of his support.

More significantly, you get it right by referring to Arab refusal to take steps toward accepting Israel on the basis of Mr. Netanyahu’s settlement declaration as an “excuse.”

The truth is that Palestinians and Arabs have been making excuses about their denial of Israel for six decades. Sometimes the excuses are more plausible, sometimes less. But they are excuses and the core problem as to why this bloody conflict has lasted so long.

This is an important distinction. It does not diminish Israel’s need to deal with settlements in a reasonable way, but it puts the issue in proper context. When settlements are described as the issue, we lose sight of the fundamentals of the historic Arab war against Israel, and we make it even more difficult to achieve a breakthrough.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League
New York, Sept. 15, 2009



To the Editor:

As an American citizen of Jewish descent, and one who fully supports the state of Israel, I find it difficult to accept the attitude of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with regard to the settlement issue.

The continued spread of Israeli settlements is the main obstacle to continued nonviolence in the region, and the key to bringing the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Mr. Netanyahu together and resuming peace talks here in New York this month.

President Obama needs to be very clear with Mr. Netanyahu that although the United States will always support Israel against its enemies, we will not accept its expansion with regard to additional settlements.

Our president must use the power of his office, and state without equivocation that if Israel continues to build settlements, America will cut financial and military aid until it ceases and desists.

Henry A. Lowenstein
New York, Sept. 15, 2009



To the Editor:

It is true that the Middle Eastern imbroglio has presented a monumental test of the political weight, commitment and courage of President Obama to end the spiral of lost opportunities and reignite the two-state solution that remains the only modus operandi available in finding a way out of this festering 60-year-old stalemate.

But a trail of death and desolation continues to plague the region, and calls to resurrect the moribund peace process remain unheeded.

But while the role of the United States is indispensable, the onus of reaching a just, durable and comprehensive settlement that reconciles the conflicting national aspirations of Arabs and Jews essentially lies on the shoulders of regional leaders, who remain mired in a collective quagmire of corruption, mistrust and mismanagement.

When will these leaders realize that greater harmony and global peace will prevail only once the Arab Palestinian issue is settled?

Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London, Sept. 15, 2009



To the Editor:

Prince Turki al-Faisal, in “Land First, Then Peace” (Op-Ed, Sept. 13), presents a wish list of further one-sided territorial concessions as a precondition for Saudi recognition of Israel.

The fact is that most Israelis are not wedded to the settlements, but after 16 years of negotiations and subsequent withdrawals coinciding with waves of terror and war, the Israeli public (especially the young) is rightfully cynical about the value of more pullbacks.

If, however, Saudi Arabia, as the “de facto leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds,” would publicly come forth and recognize Israel, and acknowledge its raison d’être as the Jewish national homeland in the Middle East, it would be amazed at Israel’s flexibility.

Now is actually the perfect time to emulate the Egyptian peacemaker and “do a Sadat” with Israel. After 60 years of rejection, it’s up to Saudi leaders to “just do it.”

Marco Greenberg
New York, Sept. 13, 2009



To the Editor:

Prince Turki al-Faisal’s reference to Saudi Arabia as a kingdom holding itself to “higher standards of justice and law,” and therefore unable to discuss peace with Israel under current conditions, is particularly ironic. Israeli policy has its problems, yet Israel is ultimately a liberal parliamentary democracy where citizens are free to choose their politics and religious confession.

Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is an autocratic state, with power concentrated in the hands of one family. It is a state that treats its female population as third-class citizens, brutalizes its minority Shiite population, and punishes political and religious dissent with public torture and beheadings. The prince’s relations should put their own house in order before lecturing other nations about “higher standards.”

Scott Platton
West Windsor, N.J., Sept. 13, 2009



To the Editor:

Prince Turki al-Faisal doesn’t mention another possible obstacle to Sadat-like reciprocal peacemaking visits by Saudi and Israeli leaders: the Saudi law banning visits to Mecca by non-Muslims.

Saudi Arabia’s record of religious intolerance and human rights violations belies its representative’s assertion that its holding itself to “higher standards of justice and law” qualifies it to lecture Israel on international law and immorality.

Daniel Wolf
Teaneck, N.J., Sept. 14, 2009

    Voices Across the Mideast Divide, NYT, 16.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/opinion/l16mideast.html

 

 

 

 

 

Editorial

Squandering the Moment

 

September 15, 2009
The New York Times

 

Unless something happens soon, Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs may squander the best chance for Middle East peace in nearly a decade. President Obama is committed to serious negotiations and, for now, there is a lull in regional violence. But all of the region’s major players are refusing to do what is needed to keep their own people safe and move the peace process forward.

Mr. Obama has called on the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to freeze all settlement construction as a way to demonstrate his government’s commitment to trading land for peace.

Mr. Netanyahu, who accepted the idea of a two-state solution only grudgingly, has hinted that he might agree to a temporary freeze. In the meantime, his government has approved 455 new permits for construction in the West Bank and said that work on 2,500 units now in progress must also be completed.

That may play well in Israeli polls, but it has given Arab leaders a powerful excuse to do nothing.

Mr. Obama has been urging Arab states to demonstrate their own commitment to a peace deal by signaling a greater acceptance of Israel — by granting overflight rights for Israeli commercial planes or opening consular or trade offices in Israel.

Instead of championing the idea, the United States’ closest regional allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are refusing to make any of their own gestures and are actively discouraging other Arab states from acting. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has refused to agree to a three-way meeting with Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu in New York later this month unless Israel agrees to a complete freeze.

Is there any way out of this stalemate?

The White House’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is back in the region this week trying to talk sense to all sides. He needs to tell them that Mr. Obama’s patience is not unlimited and that the lull in violence is almost certainly temporary.

He must remind the Egyptians and the Saudis, who are constantly looking over their shoulders at Iran, that a peace deal is the best way to check extremism and Tehran’s power. And the Gulf states, which insist that they are less mired in ancient hatreds, must be urged to step out of the shadow of Riyadh and Cairo and do what they already know is necessary.

President Obama needs to prod Mr. Netanyahu toward bolder action by making a direct — and better — case to a skeptical Israeli public on why a settlements freeze and reviving peace talks is in its interest.

Mr. Obama is still hoping to bring the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together at the United Nations this month to announce the resumption of peace talks. To pull that off, he is going to have to press all of the region’s leaders a lot harder.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Mitchell have already invested eight months on confidence-building and incremental diplomacy. If there is no breakthrough soon, they may have to place their own deal on the table.

    Squandering the Moment, NYT, 15.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/opinion/15tue1.html

 

 

 

 

 

China-U.S. Trade Dispute Has Broad Implications

 

September 15, 2009
The New York Times
By KEITH BRADSHER

 

HONG KONG — An increasingly acrimonious trade dispute between China and the United States over the past three days is officially about tires, chickens and cars, but is really much broader.

Both governments face domestic pressure to take a tougher stand against the other on economic issues. But the trade frictions are increasing political tensions between the two nations even as they try to work together to revive the global economy and combat mutual security threats, like the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

On Friday evening in Washington, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would levy tariffs of up to 35 percent on tires from China. China’s commerce ministry issued a formulaic criticism of the American action on Saturday, but after a frenzy of anti-American rhetoric on Chinese Web sites, the ministry unexpectedly announced on Sunday night that it would take the first steps toward imposing tariffs on American exports of automotive products and chicken meat.

Late Monday, the ministry said in a statement that it was demanding talks with the United States on the tire tariffs. Carol J. Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the office of the United States trade representative, said earlier in the day that the United States wanted to avoid disputes with China and continue talks on tires, but would look at any Chinese trade decisions for whether they comply with World Trade Organization rules.

Eswar Prasad, a former China division chief at the International Monetary Fund, said rising trade tensions between the United States and China could become hard to control. They could cloud the Group of 20 meeting of leaders of industrialized and fast-growing emerging nations in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24 and 25, and perhaps affect Mr. Obama’s visit to Beijing in November.

“This spat about tires and chickens could turn ugly very quickly,” Mr. Prasad said.

The Chinese government’s strong countermove on Sunday night followed a weekend of nationalistic vitriol on Chinese Web sites. “The U.S. is shameless!” said one posting, while another called on the Chinese government to sell all of its huge holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds.

But rising nationalism in China is making it harder for Chinese officials to gloss over American criticism.

“All kinds of policymaking, not just trade policy, is increasingly reactive to Internet opinion,” said Victor Shih, a Northwestern University specialist in economic policy formulation.

Mr. Obama’s decision to impose a tariffs on Chinese tires is a signal that he plans to deliver on his promise to labor unions that he would more strictly enforce trade laws, especially against China, which has become the world’s factory while the United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs. The trade deficit with China was a record $268 billion in 2008.

China exported $1.3 billion in tires to the United States in the first seven months of 2009, while the United States shipped about $800 million in automotive products and $376 million in chicken meat to China, according to data from Global Trade Information Services in Columbia, South Carolina.

For many years, American politicians have been able to take credit domestically for standing up to China by enacting largely symbolic measures against Chinese exports in narrowly defined categories. In the last five years, the U.S. Commerce Department has restricted Chinese imports of goods as diverse as bras and oil well equipment.

For the most part, Chinese officials have grumbled but done little, preferring to preserve a lopsided trade relationship in which the United States buys $4.46 worth of Chinese goods for every $1 worth of American goods sold to China.

Now, the delicate equilibrium is being disturbed.

China’s commerce ministry announced Sunday that it would investigate “certain imported automotive products and certain imported chicken meat products originating from the United States” to determine if they were being subsidized or “dumped” below cost in the Chinese market. A finding of subsidies or dumping would allow China to impose tariffs on these imports.

The ministry did not mention the tire dispute in its announcement, portraying the investigations as “based on the laws of our country and on World Trade Organization rules.”

But the timing of the announcement — on a weekend and just after the tire decision in Washington — sent an unmistakable message of retaliation. The official Xinhua news agency Web site prominently linked its reports on the tire dispute and the Chinese investigations.

The commerce ministry statement, posted on its Web site, also hinted obliquely at the harm that a trade war could do while Western nations and Japan struggle to emerge from a severe economic downturn. “China is willing to continue efforts with various countries to make sure that the world economy recovers as quickly as possible,” the statement said.

The Chinese government sometimes organizes blog postings to defend its own policies. But some postings on the tire decision have been implicitly critical of the Chinese government, making it unlikely that they are part of an orchestrated effort.

“Why did our government purchase so much U.S. government debt?” said one posting signed by a “Group of Angry Youths.” It continued, “We should get rid of all such U.S. investments.”

China has accumulated $2 trillion in foreign reserves, mostly in Treasury bonds and other dollar-denominated assets. It has done so by printing yuan on a massive scale and selling them to buy dollars.

This has held down the value of yuan in currency markets and kept Chinese goods quite inexpensive in foreign markets. China’s exports have soared -- China surpassed Germany in the first half of this year as the world’s largest exporter – while China’s imports have lagged, except for commodities like iron ore and oil that China lacks.

Worries that China might sell Treasury bonds — or even slow down its purchases of them — have been a concern for the Bush and Obama administrations as they have tried to figure out how to address China’s trade and currency policies.

But China now finances a much smaller portion of American borrowing than a year ago. The savings rate in the United States has climbed during the recession and many private investors around the world have been seeking the safety of Treasuries.

At the same time, the Chinese economy relies heavily on exports to the United States, while the American economy is much less dependent on exports in the other direction. Exports to the United States, at 6 percent of China’s entire economic output, account for 13 times as large a share of the Chinese economy as exports to China represent for the United States economy.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China said in a statement on Monday afternoon, “We respect the rights of governments to take W.T.O.-compliant trade actions, but caution both the U.S. and China against an escalation of restrictive trade measures that could undermine economic recovery in both nations.”

Products involved in trade disputes between the United States and China together make up only a minuscule sliver of the two countries’ trade relationship.

The bigger risk for China, economists and corporate executives have periodically warned, is that trade frictions could cause multinationals to rethink their heavy reliance on Chinese factories in their supply chains. The Chinese targeting of autos and chickens affects two industries that may have the political muscle in the United States to dissuade the Obama administration from aggressively challenging China’s policies.

General Motors sees much of its growth coming from its China subsidiary, the second-largest auto company in China after Volkswagen. The farm lobby in the United States has long pressed for maximum access to a market of 1.3 billion mouths, and agriculture is one of the very few trade categories in which the United States runs a trade surplus with China.

Chickens are a longstanding issue in Sino-American trade relations. The United States only allows the import of chicken meat from countries that meet food safety inspection requirements that are certified by the United States Department of Agriculture as equivalent to American standards. But Congress, worried about low-cost Chinese chickens at a time of international worries about food safety in China, has banned the Agriculture Department for the last several years from spending any money to certify China’s procedures as equivalent.

The Senate budget bill, expected to come up for a vote next week, would remove the ban. So China’s latest move could represent an attempt to influence that vote.

But spotlighting automotive trade may be risky for China. G.M. and Ford both rely mostly on local production to supply the Chinese market, because of steep Chinese tariffs on imported cars and car parts.

But China has rapidly increased its share of the auto parts market in the United States over the past three years, at a time of rising unemployment in the Upper Midwest, where the manufacture of auto parts has long employed more people than the final assembly of cars.

    China-U.S. Trade Dispute Has Broad Implications, NYT, 15.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/business/global/15trade.html

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Adds Punitive Tariffs on Chinese Tires

 

September 12, 2009
The New York Times
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS

 

WASHINGTON — In a break with the trade policies of his predecessor, President Obama announced on Friday night that he would impose a 35 percent tariff on automobile and light-truck tires imported from China.

The decision is a major victory for the United Steelworkers, the union that represents American tire workers. And Mr. Obama cannot afford to jeopardize his relationship with major unions as he pushes Congress to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

But China is certain to be antagonized by the decision, made less than two weeks before Mr. Obama will come face to face with Chinese leaders at a summit meeting in Pittsburgh for the Group of 20 industrialized and fast-growing emerging nations.

The decision signals the first time that the United States has invoked a special safeguard provision that was part of its agreement to support China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Under that safeguard provision, American companies or workers harmed by imports from China can ask the government for protection simply by demonstrating that American producers have suffered a “market disruption” or a “surge” in imports from China.

Unlike more traditional anti-dumping cases, the government does not need to determine that a country is competing unfairly or selling its products at less than their true cost.

The International Trade Commission had already determined that Chinese tire imports were disrupting the $1.7 billion market and recommended that the president impose the new tariffs. Members of the commission, an independent government agency, voted 4-2 on June 29 to recommend that President Obama impose tariffs on Chinese tires for three years. Mr. Obama had until this coming Thursday to make a decision.

American imports of Chinese tires tripled between 2004 and 2008, and China’s share of the American market grew to 16.7 percent, from 4.7 percent, according to the United States Trade Representative. Four American tire factories closed in 2006 and 2007, and several more are set to close this year.

The Tire Industry Association has opposed the tariffs, arguing that they will not preserve American jobs but will instead cause manufacturers to relocate plants to other countries where they can produce tires cheaply.

President George W. Bush received four similar recommendations from the trade commission, the most recent one involving steel pipe in December 2005, but he rejected all of those recommendations. Under the law, the president is allowed to accept or reject the commission’s recommendations.

“The president decided to remedy the clear disruption to the U.S. tire industry based on the facts and the law in this case,” the president’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said in a statement Friday night.

Mr. Gibbs said the United States, which already imposes a 4 percent tariff on Chinese tires, would impose an additional tariff of 35 percent for one year. The tariff will be reduced to 30 percent in the second year and 25 percent in the third year. The tariff is to take effect on Sept. 26.

The trade commission proposed higher tariffs than the president actually imposed, recommending an initial levy of 55 percent.

The president of United Steelworkers International, Leo W. Gerard, applauded Mr. Obama’s decision, saying, “The president sent the message that we expect others to live by the rules, just as we do.”

Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who had pressed for the tariffs, also praised the decision.

He said in a statement, “If American workers and manufacturers are going to compete in the global market, they need to have a government that uses trade enforcement tools.”

    U.S. Adds Punitive Tariffs on Chinese Tires, NYT, 12.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/12/business/global/12tires.html

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Says Iran Has Ability to Expedite a Nuclear Bomb
 

September 10, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER

 

This article was reported by William J. Broad, Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger and written by Mr. Sanger.

 

WASHINGTON — American intelligence agencies have concluded in recent months that Iran has created enough nuclear fuel to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon. But new intelligence reports delivered to the White House say that the country has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb.

In the first public acknowledgment of the intelligence findings, the American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency declared on Wednesday that Iran now had what he called a “possible breakout capacity” if it decided to enrich its stockpile of uranium, converting it to bomb-grade material.

The statement by the ambassador, Glyn Davies, was intended to put pressure on American allies to move toward far more severe sanctions against Iran this month, perhaps including a cutoff of gasoline to the country, if it failed to take up President Obama’s invitation for serious negotiations. But it could also complicate the administration’s efforts to persuade an increasingly impatient Israeli government to give diplomacy more time to work, and hold off from a military strike against Iran’s facilities..

In interviews over the past two months, intelligence and military officials, and members of the Obama administration, have said they are convinced that Iran has made significant progress on uranium enrichment, especially over the past year.

Iran has maintained that its continuing enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, that the uranium is solely for electric power and that its scientists have never researched weapons design. But in a 2007 announcement, the United States said that it had found evidence that Iran had worked on designs for making a warhead, though it determined that the project was halted in late 2003. The new intelligence information collected by the Obama administration finds no convincing evidence that the design work has resumed.

It is unclear how many months — or even years — it would take Iran to complete that final design work, and then build a warhead that could fit atop its long-range missiles. That question has been the subject of a series of sharp, behind-the-scenes exchanges between the Israelis and top American intelligence and military officials, dating back nearly two years and increasing in intensity in recent months.

The American position is that the United States and its allies would probably have considerable warning time if Iran moved to convert its growing stockpile of low-enriched nuclear fuel to make it usable for weapons.

While there is little doubt inside the United States government that Iran’s ultimate goal is to create a weapons capability, there is some skepticism about whether an Iranian government that is distracted by the fallout from a disputed presidential election would take that risky step, and how quickly it could overcome the remaining technological hurdles.

But Israel draws more dire pictures from the same set of facts. In classified exchanges with the United States, it has cited evidence that the design effort secretly resumed in 2005, at the order of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. American officials say that the evidence is circumstantial, and point out that the Israelis have not produced a copy of the order they say Ayatollah Khamenei gave.

”We’re all looking at the same set of facts,” said one senior Israeli intelligence official, who, like others interviewed for this article, asked for anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence-gathering. “We are interpreting them quite differently than the White House does.”

At the core of the dispute is the “breakout capacity” that Mr. Davies referred to on Wednesday in his first presentation as ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog. The phrase refers to a non-nuclear nation’s ability to acquire enough fuel and expertise to be able to complete building an actual weapon relatively quickly.

The Israelis have argued that there could be little or no warning time — especially if Iran has hidden facilities — and they contended that in the aftermath of Iraq, American intelligence agencies were being far too cautious in assessing Iran’s capability.

As American and Israeli officials expected, Iran turned over to European nations on Wednesday what it called a new set of “proposals” for negotiations over its nuclear program. American officials said they had not read them, but Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said the Iranian response must be “serious, substantive and constructive” to meet Mr. Obama’s test.

The White House has given Iran a late-September deadline to begin substantive negotiations, or face additional sanctions.

Administration officials are debating whether the Iranian leadership, struggling with violent protests, is effectively paralyzed when it comes to negotiating with the West — or for that matter in determining how aggressively to push ahead with its nuclear program. The White House is hoping its offer to negotiate has thrown Iran’s leadership off track, and built up credibility around the world if the president begins to press for tougher sanctions.

The intelligence updates for Mr. Obama follow the broad outlines of the conclusions delivered to President George W. Bush in 2007, as part of a 140-page National Intelligence Estimate. It was based on information gathered by American spy agencies that had pierced Iran’s military computer networks, coming up with surprising evidence that the country had halted its weapons-design effort four years earlier.

Critics said the public portion of the report understated the importance of Iran’s progress in enriching uranium, the hardest part of the bomb-making process.

Accurate intelligence about the progress of Iran’s weapons programs has been notoriously poor. Much of the country’s early activity was missed for nearly 18 years, until a dissident group revealed the existence of enrichment efforts.

Both the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate and the recent updates for Mr. Obama, according to officials familiar with their contents, are filled with caveats that Iran could be conducting uranium enrichment or weapons design work at remote locations that have eluded detection.

The 2007 estimate outraged Israel, so much so that the next year the Israeli government secretly went to Mr. Bush to seek bunker-busting bombs, refueling capability and overflight rights over Iraq, in case it moved to strike Iran’s facilities. He turned Israel down.

Last month, former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News that he “was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues.” In recent interviews, former Bush administration officials confirmed that they had asked the Pentagon to draw up possible attack scenarios. But the issue was never seriously debated because Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were firmly opposed, the officials said, partly because they felt that an attack would not deal a significant setback to Iran’s program. “The vice president believed, and the Israelis believed, that it would be better if the Bush administration took care of it,” one former official said.

By the international inspectors’ last count, Iran has installed more than 8,000 centrifuges — the machines that enrich uranium — at its main underground facility at Natanz, the primary target the Israelis had in their sights. At last inspection, Iran was using only a little more than half of them to enrich uranium.

If Tehran has no hidden fuel-production facilities, to create a bomb it would have to convert its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium into bomb-grade material. International inspectors, who visit Natanz regularly, would presumably raise alarms. Iran would also have to produce or buy a working weapons design, complete with triggering devices, and make it small enough to fit in one of its missiles.

The official American estimate is that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015, probably later rather than sooner. Meir Dagan, the director of the Mossad, Israel’s main spy agency, told the Israeli Parliament in June that unless action was taken, Iran would have its first bomb by 2014, according to an account in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Israeli officials have confirmed.

“Israel expects that the international community will prevent Iran from gaining nuclear military capabilities,” said Michael Oren, Israel’s new ambassador to Washington.

Despite Mr. Dagan’s public comments, most Israeli officials believe that Iran could create a bomb much more quickly. They cite the murky evidence surrounding two secret programs in Iran, Project 110 and Project 111. Those are the code names for what are believed to be warhead-design programs run by an academic, Mohsen Fakrizadeh.

Iran has never allowed Mr. Fakrizadeh to be interviewed. But international inspectors have shown videos and documents suggesting that his group has worked on nuclear triggers, trajectories for missiles and the detonation of a warhead at almost 2,000 feet above ground — which would suggest a nuclear detonation. On Wednesday, Iran again said this evidence consisted of “forgeries” and “fabrications.”

Israeli officials say privately that the Obama administration is deluding itself in thinking that diplomacy will persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program. The Obama administration says it believes that Iran is on the defensive — fearful of more crippling sanctions and beset by internal turmoil. But even inside the White House, some officials think Mr. Obama’s diplomatic effort will prove fruitless.

Some administration officials insist Israel is throwing out worst-case possibilities to “shorten the timeline” to an Iranian bomb as a way to put pressure on the Obama administration. But some administration officials acknowledge that Israel’s impatience and hints of military action are useful because they might push Iran into negotiations, with real deadlines.

At a meeting with a senior Obama administration official several months ago, Israeli officials pressed for intelligence and other help necessary for a strike, according to one official with knowledge of the exchange.

 

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Souad Mekhennet from Berlin.

    U.S. Says Iran Has Ability to Expedite a Nuclear Bomb, NYT, 9.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/world/middleeast/10intel.html

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Rebukes Israel Over Settlement Plan

 

September 5, 2009
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER

 

JERUSALEM — Israeli officials said Friday that the government would authorize building hundreds of housing units in West Bank settlements, and that it then expected to freeze construction for six to nine months in anticipation of restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.

The seemingly contradictory steps reflected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s balancing of interests as he tries to satisfy his own party, Likud, which wants settlements to continue unimpeded, and the Obama administration, which, joined by Palestinians and the Arab world, says all building must stop now.

Both sides criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s plan, though some analysts said that the blend of half-measures was politically necessary to advance talks while holding his government together.

“As the president has said before,” the White House said in a statement, “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion, and we urge that it stop. We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate.”

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, meeting in Paris with President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the plan was “not acceptable.”

The leaders of the settlement movement, many of them Likud activists, also expressed displeasure.

Three weeks ago, Israel’s housing minister said that the government had not given final approval for any settlement building in the West Bank since the Netanyahu government took office in late March, a statement that prompted President Obama to say he saw “movement in the right direction.” But the housing minister also said there was no formal freeze in place.

On Friday, a senior American official said that the Obama administration had been informed of Mr. Netanyahu’s plan on Thursday and that, while it was unhappy about it — and it made that clear to the prime minister’s aides — it still hoped and expected that the subsequent freeze would lead to renewed peace negotiations.

The target for the talks to resume is late September at the next gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, which Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Abbas and Mr. Obama will all attend.

The Americans have been trying to persuade Arab states to offer Israel measures in exchange for a building freeze, including reopening Israeli trade offices in several countries and allowing Israeli planes heading to Asia to use their airspace. Some of those hopes may be jeopardized by the latest announcement.

“The freeze is not about removing Jews from the West Bank now, but about confidence-building measures, and confidence is what will now be lacking,” argued Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli newspaper columnist, in a telephone interview. “I’m afraid Netanyahu will end up losing the confidence of everyone.”

In his column Friday in Yediot Aharonot, Mr. Barnea said a senior American official telephoned him this week to lay out what Mr. Netanyahu would receive in exchange for the freeze: “an improved personal relationship with President Obama; he will get gestures from the moderate Arab states that the Israelis can appreciate, including a reopening of the interests offices in a number of states, tourism and trade relations, flight rights.” The column was written before the latest announcement.

Two Israeli officials returned Friday from meetings with the Obama administration’s envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is expected in Jerusalem late next week for further negotiations over the renewal of the peace process. That is being defined as direct talks with the Palestinians and supportive gestures from the Arab world, in exchange for the freeze and moves by Israeli authorities to continue to improve security and the economy for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Mr. Abbas is head of the Fatah movement, whose rival Hamas rules in Gaza. Fatah controls the West Bank, and he has increased his popularity among Palestinians as West Bank conditions improve and Gaza stagnates under an Israeli and Egyptian embargo, according to two new opinion polls. That may encourage Mr. Abbas to go ahead with talks.

The Palestinian Center for Survey and Policy Research, which conducts quarterly surveys, found that support for Mr. Abbas and Fatah over Hamas and its leader, Ismail Haniya, continued to grow both in the West Bank and Gaza. A five-percentage-point advantage three months ago has nearly tripled, to 14 percentage points, the center reported, based on a mid-August survey. It also found a big increase in the sense of personal safety among people in the West Bank, something Mr. Abbas’s security forces have been fostering, as well as a widespread belief that American involvement in peace talks would bring results.

A separate survey, done in July and August by Stanley Greenberg, an American who has long polled for Democrats, also found enthusiasm for the Obama administration’s role, and indicated that Fatah would beat Hamas by 10 points if elections were held today in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Greenberg survey was carried out for the Israel Project, which seeks to improve Israel’s image and has started to focus efforts in the Palestinian areas as well as in Egypt and Jordan.

Both the Palestinian Center and Greenberg polls found substantial support among Palestinians for a two-state solution, where the two are described as Palestinian and Jewish states. The Palestinian survey found the public evenly divided — 49 percent to 49 percent — over a final accord of mutual recognition and an end to conflict. The Greenberg poll found greater enthusiasm in the West Bank — 69 percent to 29 percent — than in Gaza, where 33 percent favored such a two-state solution compared with 56 percent opposed.

The Greenberg survey found that the Israel Project had its work cut out for it in building Israel’s image in the Arab world. Asked separate questions about their attitude toward Israel and Jews, Palestinians and Jordanians had a universally and completely negative response to both. Egyptians were only somewhat less hostile.

On the other hand, a plurality of Egyptians — 46 to 36 percent — approved of their country’s diplomatic relations with Israel. In Jordan, it went the other way — 51 percent opposing those relations and 42 percent approving.

 

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.

    U.S. Rebukes Israel Over Settlement Plan, NYT, 5.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/05/world/middleeast/05mideast.html

 

 

 

 

 

Editorial

Shame On Iran

 

August 28, 2009
The New York Times

 

Longer than many people might have predicted, Iran’s political opposition is continuing to challenge the ruling hard-line mullahs. The street protests that shook the country after the bogus June 12 presidential election have faded, but the courage to speak out against the regime’s mounting abuses has not.

Earlier this month, Mehdi Karroubi, the reformist cleric who placed fourth among the presidential contenders, stunned many Iranians by charging that some of the thousands of men and women who were arrested for protesting after the disputed election had been raped. Even after the government rejected the accusations as “sheer lies,” Mr. Karroubi was defiant. He called for an investigation and said four people were ready to testify if their security is guaranteed. He said that if the government continued to deny the facts and “terrorize” him for truth-telling, “I will disclose all the untold stories.”

Corroboration has come from the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi. He said “establishment agents” were responsible for the rapes, and, on Thursday, an unnamed parliamentarian said that an official inquiry had proved that rapes took place. It is a sensitive topic. Rumors about sexual misconduct in Iran’s prisons have been around since the 1979 revolution, but this is the first time they have been discussed publicly.

Oddly, the government seemed to have less trouble acknowledging that some detainees had been tortured. Those incidents were “mistakes,” Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi, a top judiciary official, told a news conference. Iran’s Constitution and law prohibit torture; however, the 2008 State Department human rights report cites numerous credible reports over the years in which security forces and prison personnel tortured prisoners.

The government should be ferreting out and putting an end to these abuses. Instead, it continues to conduct cruel mass show trials designed to intimidate the opposition and legitimize the illegitimate — the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During Tuesday’s trial — in which former officials, journalists and academics were accused of fomenting a foreign-inspired “velvet revolution” — prosecutors went a step further and struck at the entire reform movement by asking the judge to ban the two reform parties.

The election and its violent aftermath have caused unprecedented fissures among the political and clerical elite. More repression is only likely to deepen the discontent. We hope more conservatives join the opposition in demanding punishment for those who abused detainees and that hard-liners reconsider their ominous threats to punish Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Moussavi for speaking out.

    Shame On Iran, NYT, 28.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/opinion/28fri2.html

 

 

 

 

 

Editorial

The Settlements Issue

 

July 31, 2009
The New York Times

 

The last American president to openly challenge Israel on settlements was George H.W. Bush and we commend President Obama for demanding that Israel halt all new construction. The controversy must not obscure Mr. Obama’s real goal: nudging Israel and the Palestinians into serious peace negotiations.

Mr. Obama and his negotiator, George Mitchell, have focused on settlements after prying loose a commitment — highly caveated — from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a two-state solution. The Palestinians insist they won’t return to talks until all construction halts. The Americans have decided that a freeze is needed to show Palestinians and other Arabs that Israel’s conservative government is serious about peace.

Less visibly, but we hope just as assertively, the administration is pressing the Palestinians and other Arab leaders to take concrete steps to demonstrate their commitment to a peace deal. Those must clearly contribute to Israel’s sense of security.

Unless all sides deliver — the Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis — Mr. Obama’s credibility and the credibility of the peace process will be undermined.

The ultimate question of who controls which land will have to be resolved at the peace table with border negotiations and land swaps. Right now, some 300,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank; 200,000 in East Jerusalem. And the continued expansion of Israeli settlements has led Palestinians to doubt they will ever be allowed to build a viable state. The issue has also given Arab states a far too convenient excuse for inaction.

While Israeli governments have repeatedly promised to halt settlement activity — and no new settlements have been approved in nearly two decades — existing ones have continued to mushroom with government incentives. According to Americans for Peace Now, an activist group, 4,560 new housing units were built when Ehud Olmert was prime minister. Mr. Netanyahu has rejected demands for a freeze and insisted that “natural growth” (to accommodate births) must be allowed.

Under pressure from Washington, Mr. Netanyahu’s government has dangled a possible compromise: a temporary freeze in new construction, as long as 2,500 units now in process can be completed and Arab East Jerusalem is exempt. It is a weak offer.

While they press the Israelis, Mr. Obama and Mr. Mitchell are also asking the Palestinians and Arab states to do more. They are insisting that the Palestinians work harder to prevent incitement against Israel in schools and the media. They have asked Arab states — notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria — to signal the beginning of an acceptance by allowing Israel to fly commercial planes through Arab airspace or open government commercial offices in their capitals. They are also pressing Arab states to provide more aid for the fragile government of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

President Obama and Mr. Mitchell claim they are making progress, but so far there is little sign of it. Saudi Arabia, which has pushed Washington hard to revive negotiations, has been especially resistant. Mr. Mitchell would do well to remind them that a prolonged stalemate will only feed extremism across the region.

Israeli leaders do not often risk being at odds with an American president, but polls show broad support for Mr. Netanyahu’s resistance. President Obama, a skilled communicator, has started a constructive dialogue with the Islamic world. Now he needs to explain to Israelis why freezing settlements and reviving peace talks is clearly in their interest.

    The Settlements Issue, NYT, 31.7.2009? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/opinion/31fri1.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Gates Says U.S. Overture to Iran Is ‘Not Open-Ended’

 

July 28, 2009
The New York Times
By ELISABETH BUMILLER

 

AMMAN — Strains between the United States and Israel surfaced publicly in Jerusalem on Monday, as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tried to reassure Israelis that American overtures to Iran were not open-ended, and as Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel expressed impatience that the Americans wanted to engage Iran at all.

“I don’t think that it makes any sense at this stage to talk a lot about it,” Mr. Barak said at a joint news conference with Mr. Gates at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, referring to the American offer to talk to Iran about giving up its nuclear program. Nonetheless, he said that Israel was in no position to tell the United States what to do.

But he added, alluding to a potential Israeli military strike against Iran if it gains nuclear weapons capability: “We clearly believe that no options should be removed from the table. This is our policy, we mean it, we recommend to others to take the same position, but we cannot dictate to anyone.”

Later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying that he pressed Mr. Gates on the need to use “all means” to keep Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.

Israel has been anxious for months about the Obama administration’s willingness to engage Iran in talks, but Monday was unusual in that the tensions crept into public view at a news conference of the top defense officials of both countries.

Later, Mr. Gates met with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minster, and said at a news conference afterward in Amman that he had received assurances from the Israelis that as long as there was a time limit on the outreach to Iran, “the Israelis were prepared to let it go forward.”

Mr. Gates, in an apparent attempt to smooth over anxieties, reiterated at the news conference in Jerusalem that President Obama was hopeful that Iran would accept the offer of talks at the time of the United Nations General Assembly in late September. Mr. Obama has set a further deadline of the end of the year for Iran to show some progress on the issue.

Still, Mr. Gates acknowledged that “we’re very mindful of the possibility that the Iranians would simply try to run out the clock.” In Amman, he said that should engagement with Iran not work, the U.S. was prepared to press for tougher economic sanctions against Iran. Iran is already the subject of existing United Nations sanctions.

“Our hope still remains that Iran will respond to the president’s outstretched hand in a positive and constructive way, but we’ll see,” Mr. Gates said.

Both the United States and Israel estimate that Iran is within one to three years of developing a nuclear-weapons capability. Despite international pressure, Iran has continued to add centrifuges for enriching uranium at its plant in Natanz. But Iran insists that its nuclear program is only geared toward peaceful electricity generation.

Iran’s disputed election on June 12 and the turmoil afterward have significantly complicated American efforts to engage with the country’s leaders, and even to determine who is in charge.

Before June 12, Mr. Obama’s top aides have said that they received back-channel indications from emissaries who claimed to represent Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and that the emissaries said they would respond to the president’s overtures this summer. But the crackdown and divisions among senior clerics have changed the political dynamics, and senior administration officials say they have heard nothing from Iran’s leadership.

Mr. Gates, who was on his first trip to Jerusalem in two and a half years, is one of a stream of Obama administration officials traveling to the city this week, among them James L. Jones, the national security adviser; Dennis B. Ross, an Iran expert on the National Security Council Staff; and George J. Mitchell, the special envoy for the Middle East.

The United States has sent out conflicting messages this past month on its views of any Israeli strike against Iran. Both Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said that an Israeli strike would be “profoundly destabilizing” to the region. But Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said that the United States “cannot dictate” to Israel.

President Obama has more recently said that the United States is “absolutely not” giving Israel its approval for a strike.

In Amman, Mr. Gates met with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

    Gates Says U.S. Overture to Iran Is ‘Not Open-Ended’; NYT, 28.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/28/world/middleeast/28military.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Obama: US-China Relations to Shape 21st Century

 

July 27, 2009
Filed at 11:13 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama, opening two days of high-level talks with China, said the discussions could lay the groundwork for a new era of ''sustained cooperation, not confrontation'' in a relationship likely to shape the 21st century.

Obama said that Washington and Beijing needed to forge closer ties to address a host of challenges from lifting the global economy out of a deep recession to nuclear proliferation and global climate change.

''I believe that we are poised to make steady progress on some of the most important issues of our times,'' the president told diplomats from both countries assembled in the vast hall of the Ronald Reagan Building.

Obama said he was under ''no illusions that the United States and China will agree on every issue'' but he said closer cooperation in important areas was critical for the world.

''The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world,'' Obama said.

The discussions in Washington represent the continuation of a dialogue begun by the Bush administration, which focused on economic tensions between the two nations. Obama chose to expand the talks to include foreign policy issues as well as economic disputes over trade and currency values.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, welcoming the Chinese, said the two nations were ''laying brick by brick the foundation for a stronger relationship.''

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, China's top economic policymaker, both spoke of hopeful signs that the global economy was beginning to emerge from its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Geithner said that the so far successful efforts of the two economic superpowers to move quickly to deal with the downturns with massive stimulus programs marked a historic turning point in the relationship of the two nations.

Speaking through a translator, Wang said that ''at present the world economy is at a critical moment of moving out of crisis and toward recovery.''

State Councilor Dai Bingguo said that the two countries were trying to build better relations despite their very different social systems, cultures, ideologies and histories.

''We are actually all in the same big boat that has been hit by fierce wind and huge waves,'' Dai said of the global economic and other crises.

Obama said that the United States and China have a shared interest in clean and secure energy sources.

As the world's largest energy consumers, Obama said that neither country profits from a dependence on foreign oil. He also said neither country will be able to combat climate change unless they work together.

However, the discussions this week were not expected to bridge wide differences between the two nations on climate change and officials cautioned against expecting any major breakthroughs in other areas either. U.S. officials said they hoped the talks would set a positive framework for future talks.

The administration did praise China for the help it has provided in the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

With the global economy trying to emerge from a deep recession, the United States and China have enormous stakes in resolving tensions in such areas as America's huge trade deficit with China and the Chinese government's unease over America's soaring budget deficits.

Three years ago, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson used the initial U.S.-China talks to press Beijing to let its currency, the yuan, rise in value against the dollar to make it cheaper for Chinese to buy U.S. goods. U.S. manufacturers blame an undervalued yuan for record U.S. trade deficits with China -- and, in part, for a decline in U.S. jobs.

The U.S. efforts have yielded mixed results. The yuan, after rising in value about 22 percent since 2005, has scarcely budged in the past year. Beijing had begun to fear that a stronger yuan could threaten its exports. Chinese exports already were under pressure from the global recession.

But the Obama administration intends to remain focused on the trade gap, telling Beijing that it can't rely on U.S. consumers to pull the global economy out of recession this time. In part, that's because U.S. household savings rates are rising, shrinking consumer spending in this country.

For the United States, suffering from a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, the ultimate goal is to help put more Americans to work.

While the U.S. trade deficit with China has narrowed slightly this year, it is still the largest imbalance with any country. Critics in Congress say that unless China does much more in the currency area, they will seek to pass legislation to impose economic sanctions on Beijing, a move that could spark a trade war between the two nations.

For their part, Chinese officials are making clear they want further explanations of what the administration plans to do about the soaring U.S. budget deficits. China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt -- $801.5 billion -- wants to know that those holdings are safe and won't be jeopardized in case of future inflation.

Geithner said in his opening remarks that the United States was moving to repair its financial system and overhaul how financial companies are regulated. He said the administration was also determined to deal with a budget deficit projected to hit $1.84 trillion this year, more than four times the previous high.

''We are committed to taking the necessary steps to bringing our fiscal deficits down to a more sustainable level,'' he said.

------

Associated Press writers Foster Klug and Steven Hurst in Washington and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

    Obama: US-China Relations to Shape 21st Century, NYT, 27.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/27/us/politics/AP-US-China-Talks.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Hints at ‘Defense Umbrella’ to Deter Iran

 

July 23, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER

 

PHUKET, Thailand — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the United States would consider extending a “defense umbrella” over the states in the Persian Gulf region if Iran does not bow to international demands to halt its nuclear program.

Her comment, delivered at a freewheeling town hall meeting in Bangkok, was both a warning to the Iranian government and a glimpse of how the Obama administration might cope with a nuclear-armed Iran, should Tehran continue with what Washington says is a sustained effort to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

Mrs. Clinton later said that she was not articulating a new American policy toward Iran, merely demonstrating that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon would not give it the safety and security it believes it would.

A defense umbrella in the Persian Gulf would move the United States closer to the explicit security guarantee that Washington gives allies in Asia, though that is a nuclear umbrella — a term Mrs. Clinton did not use Wednesday. She did talk about fortifying the military ability of Iran’s neighbors.

“We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf,” she said, “it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.”

In public, the Obama administration has said little, if anything, about extending a defense umbrella over the Middle East, though Dennis B. Ross, a senior White House adviser on Iran and the Gulf region, endorsed the concept of a “nuclear umbrella” prior to joining the administration.

During the presidential election campaign, Mrs. Clinton called for a security umbrella over Israel and other Middle East nations. Mr. Obama, while not ruling out any options, has not said whether he would approve the use of nuclear weapons against Iran if it attacked its neighbors.

A senior administration official also said Mrs. Clinton’s remarks did not reflect a shift in the administration’s policy of preventing Iran from obtaining a weapon.

“She is making an argument to Iran about why they should not do this,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because only Mrs. Clinton was authorized to speak publicly on such issues. Mrs. Clinton is in Thailand for a meeting here of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean.

Mrs. Clinton was also asked about reports that her visibility as secretary of state had waned in recent weeks. She made light of it, saying it was a misimpression left by the fact that she had broken her elbow and was forced to cancel two overseas trips, including one with Mr. Obama to Moscow.

“I’m not with the president on the trip and all of a sudden they go, ‘Oh, where is she? She’s gone, lost, disappeared,’” Mrs. Clinton said in mock horror, making light of news reports in the United States.

She also offered fresh details on Mr. Obama’s political courtship of her in the days after the election to join his cabinet, saying she had first declined and given him names of people she thought would do a good job. Mrs. Clinton said the president, with repeated phone calls, wore down her resistance.

“He gave me an enormous amount of authority as secretary of state, and really everything I asked for so that could the job that he wanted me to do, that we agreed to,” she said, “and I was running out of excuses.” Earlier Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton intensified her warnings about reports of growing military cooperation between North Korea and Myanmar, citing the possible transfer of nuclear technology.

In remarks to reporters she said the United States was “very concerned about North Korea and recent reports” of possible nuclear deals with Myanmar. Military cooperation itself, she said, could destabilize the region.

Suspicions about North Korea’s relationship with Myanmar, which the United States refers to as Burma, deepened recently when a North Korean freighter appeared to be steaming toward Myanmar. American officials, believing the ship might be carrying weapons or other illicit cargo, tracked it until it reversed course.

    Clinton Hints at ‘Defense Umbrella’ to Deter Iran, NYT, 23.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/world/asia/23diplo.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Warns N. Korea and Myanmar May Be Sharing Nuclear Technology

 

July 23, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER

 

BANGKOK — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton intensified her warnings Wednesday about reports of growing military cooperation between North Korea and Myanmar, this time citing the possible transfer of nuclear technology.

In Thailand for a meeting of Southeast Asian nations, she said in remarks to reporters that the United States was “very concerned about North Korea and recent reports” of possible nuclear deals with Myanmar. Military cooperation itself, she said, could destabilize the region.

Suspicions about North Korea’s relationship with Myanmar, which the United States refers to as Burma, deepened recently when a North Korean freighter appeared to be steaming toward Myanmar. American officials, believing the ship might be carrying weapons or other illicit cargo, tracked it until it reversed course.

North Korea is already suspected of supplying Myanmar with small-caliber weapons and ammunition, but some intelligence analysts contend that North Korea is also helping Myanmar pursue a nuclear weapons program. They cite as possible evidence newly published photos of what some analysts say is a network of giant tunnels outside Myanmar’s jungle capital, Naypyidaw, built with help from North Korean engineers.

Mrs. Clinton’s reference to the nuclear issue on Wednesday confirmed what another senior administration official had said before the conference. “North Korea has a history of proliferating,” said the official, who had spoken on condition of anonymity because only Mrs. Clinton was authorized to speak publicly.

After arriving Tuesday in Bangkok, Mrs. Clinton had said she took the reports of military cooperation between North Korea and Myanmar “very seriously.” She said she was concerned that expanded military ties between the countries would “pose a direct threat” to Myanmar’s neighbors. She singled out Thailand, the host of the regional security meeting, as being vulnerable to the reclusive and heavily armed military dictatorship in Myanmar.

Even without these links, Myanmar and North Korea are likely to dominate the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, which began Wednesday on the resort island of Phuket.

Mrs. Clinton was to meet with the foreign ministers of several countries to strengthen support for the latest United Nations resolution against North Korea, adopted after that country’s nuclear and missile tests.

Although the United States is putting most of its emphasis on enforcing the sanctions in that resolution, it has begun discussing possible incentives that the countries could offer North Korea, if its government agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions and return to the bargaining table.

Officials declined to say what might be on the table, though they said it would be a mix of familiar and new elements. In the past, the United States and other countries have offered North Korea shipments of fuel.

“There are obviously a list of incentives, offers that could be made if the North Koreans evidence any willingness to take a different path,” Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference here Tuesday, after arriving from New Delhi. “As of this moment in time, we haven’t seen that evidence.”

The administration’s decision to broach the possibility of incentives, officials said, will make it easier to persuade countries like China, which have previously resisted sanctions against North Korea, to agree to put into effect the tougher measures in the United Nations resolution.

North Korea is expected to send a delegate to the Asean conference, but Mrs. Clinton did not plan to meet that delegate. American officials said there was always the possibility of a chance encounter of a North Korean diplomat and one of Mrs. Clinton’s lieutenants on the sidelines.

Mrs. Clinton also has no plans to meet with a representative from Myanmar, formerly Burma. On Tuesday, she spoke in unusually detailed terms in discussing the country’s human rights record and its treatment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader. Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi is on trial, accused of violating her house arrest by sheltering an American man who swam across a lake to her home last May.

“We are deeply concerned by the reports of continuing human rights abuses within Burma,” she said, “and particularly by actions that are attributed to the Burmese military, concerning the mistreatment and abuse of young girls.”

The Obama administration has been reviewing American policy toward Myanmar since February, when Mrs. Clinton declared that the existing sanctions against its military-run government had been ineffective.

But the United States will not announce a new policy at this meeting, American officials said, largely because repeated delays in the trial of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi have made it difficult for the administration to develop a response. Mrs. Clinton repeated her demand that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi be treated fairly, and dismissed the charges against her as “baseless and totally unacceptable.”

“Our position is that we are willing to have a more productive partnership with Burma if they take steps that are self-evident,” she said.

She called on the government to release political prisoners and to “end the violence” against its own people, including ethnic minorities. In recent weeks, the military has carried out a fierce offensive against the Karen minority, driving refugees across the border into Thailand.

Chinese and American officials have pressed Myanmar to adhere to the anti-proliferation measures in the sanctions against North Korea, which it has pledged to do. Analysts say there is evidence, in the aborted voyage of the North Korean freighter, that the leaders got the message.

    Clinton Warns N. Korea and Myanmar May Be Sharing Nuclear Technology, NYT, 23.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/world/asia/23diplo.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Meets With Pope Benedict at Vatican

 

July 10, 2009
Filed at 10:58 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- President Barack Obama sat down with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Friday for a meeting in which frank but constructive talks were expected between two men who agree on helping the poor but disagree on abortion and stem cell research.

''It's a great honor,'' Obama said as he greeted the pope, thanking him for the meeting. They sat down at the pontiff's desk and exchanged pleasantries before reporters and photographers were ushered out of the ornate room.

The pope was heard asking about the Group of Eight summit, the meeting of developed nations that concluded before Obama's arrival at Vatican City. Obama said it ''was very productive.''

With some Catholic activists and American bishops outspoken in their criticism of Obama, even as polls have shown he received a majority of Catholic votes, the audience was much awaited.

Obama's election presented a challenge for the Vatican after eight years of common ground with President George W. Bush in opposing abortion, an issue that drew them together despite the Vatican's opposition to the war in Iraq.

But the Vatican has been openly interested in Obama's views and scheduled an unusual afternoon meeting to accommodate him at the end of his Italian stay for a G-8 summit meeting in the earthquake-stricken city of L'Aquila and just before he leaves for Ghana.

In the tradition-conscious Vatican, most such meetings are held at midday. The Vatican has also arranged live TV coverage of the open session of the meeting after their private talks.

''I think there will be frank discussion,'' White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said earlier this week. ''I think that there's a lot that they agree on that they'll get a chance to discuss.''

''We know the pope has been keenly aware of the president's outreach to the Muslim world. The pope shares the president's view on reducing the number of nuclear weapons. So I think there's certainly a lot of common ground.''

Benedict broke Vatican protocol the day after Obama was elected by sending a personal note of congratulations rather than waiting and sending the usual brief telegram on Inauguration Day.

''I've had a wonderful conversation with the pope over the phone right after the election,'' Obama told a group of Catholic journalists in Washington before he left for Europe. ''And in some ways we see this as a meeting with any other government -- the government of the Holy See. There are going to be some areas where we've got deep agreements; there are going to be some areas where we've got some disagreements.''

But he acknowledged the pope is more than a government head, saying the church ''has such profound influence worldwide and in our country.''

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's daily newspaper, gave Obama a positive review after his first 100 days in office. In a front-page editorial, it said that even on ethical questions Obama hadn't confirmed the ''radical'' direction he discussed during the campaign.

Tensions grew when Obama was invited to receive an honorary degree at the leading U.S. Catholic university, Notre Dame. Dozens of U.S. bishops denounced the university and the local bishop boycotted the ceremony.

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who now heads a Vatican tribunal, accused Obama of pursuing anti-life and antifamily agendas. He called it a ''scandal'' that Notre Dame had invited him to speak.

Yet L'Osservatore concluded that Obama was looking for some common ground with his speech, noting he asked Americans to work together to reduce the number of abortions.

Some conservative American Catholics criticized the Vatican newspaper for its accommodating stance.

This week, Cardinal Justin Rigali, who heads the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, complained that the final guidelines of the National Institutes of Health for human embryonic stem cell research are broader than the draft guidelines.

As a child in Indonesia, Obama's Muslim father enrolled him in Catholic school for a few years. The president is a Protestant who says he is taking his time picking a church because his choice will undergo political scrutiny.

Obama left the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church in Chicago after incendiary sermons were made public and their relationship became a political liability for him as a presidential candidate.

White House national security aide Denis McDonough, speaking to reporters Thursday on the influence of Catholic social teaching on Obama, said the president ''expresses many things that many Catholics recognize as fundamental to our teaching.''

Obama ''often refers to the fundamental belief that each person is endowed with dignity ... The dignity of people is a driving goal in what we hope to accomplish in development policy, for example, and in foreign policy,'' McDonough said.

In the interview with Catholic journalists, Obama said he would tell the pope of his concern that the world financial crisis is not ''borne disproportionally by the most poor and vulnerable countries.''

Just this week, Benedict issued a major document calling for a new world financial order guided by ethics and the search for the common good, denouncing the profit-at-all-cost mentality blamed for bringing about the global financial meltdown.

As Obama has pledged to step-up efforts for Middle East peace through a two-state solution, Benedict made a similar appeal during a trip in May to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. He issued the Vatican's strongest call yet for a Palestinian state.

Obama met first with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, before meeting Benedict in the pope's study.

Obama's wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, were joining him at the end of his meeting with Benedict.

    Obama Meets With Pope Benedict at Vatican, NYT, 10.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/10/world/AP-EU-Vatican-Obama.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Visit to Slave Fort Steeped in Symbolism

 

July 10, 2009
Filed at 11:03 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

CAPE COAST, Ghana (AP) -- From the rampart of a whitewashed fort once used to ship countless slaves from Africa to the Americas, Cheryl Hardin gazed through watery eyes at the path forcibly trodden across the sea by her ancestors centuries before.

''It never gets any easier,'' the 48-year-old pediatrician said, wiping away tears on her fourth trip to Ghana's Cape Coast Castle in two decades. ''It feels the same as when I first visited -- painful, incomprehensible.''

On Saturday, Barack Obama and his family will follow in the footsteps of countless African-Americans who have tried to reconnect with their past on these shores. Though Obama was not descended from slaves -- his father was Kenyan -- he will carry the legacy of the African-American experience with him as America's first black president.

For many, the trip will be steeped in symbolism.

''The world's least powerful people were shipped off from here as slaves,'' Hardin said Tuesday, looking past a row of cannons pointing toward the Atlantic Ocean. ''Now Obama, an African-American, the most powerful person in the world, is going to be standing here. For us it will be a full-circle experience.''

Built in the 1600s, Cape Coast Castle served as Britain's West Africa headquarters for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which saw European powers and African chiefs export millions in shackles to Europe and the Americas.

The slave trade ended here in 1833, and visitors can now trek through the fort's dungeons, dark rooms once crammed with more than 1,000 men and women at a time who slept in their own excrement. The dank air inside still stings the eyes.

Visiting for the first time, Hardin's 47-year-old sister Wanda Milian said the dungeons felt ''like burial tombs.''

''It felt suffocating. It felt still,'' said Milian, who like her sister lives in Houston, Texas. ''I don't know what I expected. I didn't expect to experience the sense of loss, the sense of hopelessness and desolation.''

Those who rebelled were packed into similar rooms with hardly enough air to breath, left to die without food or water. Their faint scratch marks are still visible on walls.

Down by the shore is the fort's so-called ''Door of No Return,'' the last glimpse of Africa the slaves would ever see before they were loaded into canoes that took them to ships that crossed the ocean.

Today, the door opens onto a different world: a gentle shore where boys freely kick a white soccer ball through the surf, where gray-bearded men sit in beached canoes fixing lime-green fishing nets, where women sell maize meal from plates on their heads.

Behind them is Africa's poverty: smoke from cooking fires rises from a maze of thin wooden shacks, their rusted corrugated aluminum roofs held down by rocks. Children bathe naked in a tiny dirt courtyard.

''I just can't wrap my mind around this,'' said Milian, who works at a Methodist church. ''If it weren't for all this'' -- for slavery -- ''I wouldn't be standing here today. I wouldn't be who I am. I wouldn't have the opportunities I do. I wouldn't practice the religion I do.''

Milian also grappled with the irony that fort housed a church while the trade went on, and that African chiefs and merchants made it all possible, brutally capturing millions and marching them from the continent's interior to be sold in exchange for guns, iron and rum.

''It's mixed up,'' Milian said. ''It's not an easy puzzle to put together.''

Though slavery in the U.S. ended after the Civil War in 1865, its legacy has lived on. The U.S. Senate on June 18 unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and racial segregation.

''This is part of our history,'' said Hardin, who first visited Ghana in the late 1980s and later married a Ghanaian engineer she met in the U.S.

Her 15-year-old son was along for the first time. ''I want him to understand what his liberty really means, who he really is,'' Hardin said.

But racism, both sisters agreed, would not end with Obama's visit.

''Let's not be naive. When your skin is darker, you are still going to be treated differently,'' Hardin said. But Obama's trip ''will be a turning point, not just for America but for the world.''

Milian said Obama's journey would also bear a message to those who organized the trade.

''It will say they failed, it all failed,'' she said. ''The human mind is capable of horrible things, but the fact that we're standing here, the fact Obama will be standing here, proves we are also capable of great resilience.''

    Obama Visit to Slave Fort Steeped in Symbolism, NYT, 10.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/10/world/AP-AF-Obama-Slaverys-Legacy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Speech Cites Shared U.S.-Russian Interests

 

July 8, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER and CLIFFORD J. LEVY

 

MOSCOW — President Obama said Tuesday that America and Russia “share common interests” in building a secure, free and flourishing world but rejected complaints about American support for missile defense and expansion of the NATO alliance into Eastern Europe.

In a speech intended to highlight his two-day visit, Mr. Obama reached out to national sensibilities here by assuring that “America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia” and declaring that “it is not for me to define Russia’s national interests.”

Yet he made the case that Russia should join America in curbing emerging nuclear powers like Iran and in promoting greater liberties at home.

“By no means is America perfect,” the president said in a speech at the New Economic School, a graduate school in Moscow formed after the fall of the Soviet Union to introduce modern market economics to Russia. “But it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections, to improve constantly and to grow stronger over time.”

He added, “If our democracy did not advance those rights, then I — as a person of African ancestry — wouldn’t be able to address you as an American citizen, much less a president.”

Mr. Obama’s speech came one day after he signed an agreement in principle with President Dmitri A. Medvedev to cut Russian and American strategic nuclear arsenals by at least one-quarter.

As he began his second day in Moscow, Mr. Obama had breakfast with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, widely viewed as Russia’s paramount leader, in a meeting that ran long over its scheduled time. Speaking to reporters beforehand, Mr. Putin noted that there had been periods of “grayish mood between our two countries,” an allusion to the tension of recent years that culminated with last year’s war between Russia and its small neighbor, Georgia.

“With you,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Obama, “we link all our hopes for the furtherance of relations between our two countries.”

Neither man made any public mention of Mr. Obama’s comment in an interview last week that Mr. Putin still has “one foot in the old ways of doing business.” Instead, Mr. Obama lavished praise on Mr. Putin, while stumbling for the second time in as many days over his titles. “I’m aware of not only the extraordinary work that you’ve done on behalf of the Russian people in your previous role as prime minister — as president, but in your current role as prime minister.”

Mr. Obama’s aides suggested afterward that the president had revised his opinion of Mr. Putin, whom he was meeting for the first time. “I would say that he’s very convinced that the prime minister is a man of today and has got his eyes firmly on the future as well,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified.

Mr. Obama came here in hopes of rebuilding relations with Russia after they frayed under his predecessor, President George W. Bush. In addition to the nuclear arms agreement, he and Mr. Medvedev sealed a deal allowing the American military to send thousands of flights of troops and weapons to Afghanistan through Russian airspace each year, and they renewed military contacts suspended after last year’s Georgia war.

The two did not reach a trade deal the Obama administration once hoped for, and they made no progress in bridging the divide over American plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. But Mr. Medvedev was pleased that Mr. Obama agreed that they should talk about both offensive and defensive weapons, and the American president was pleased that his Russian counterpart agreed to conduct a joint review of any Iranian nuclear threat.

Mr. Obama mapped out his second day in part to demonstrate continuing American support for democracy and rule of law in Russia.

He met Tuesday morning with Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the former Soviet president who ushered in glasnost and the changes that ultimately unraveled the Soviet Union. Mr. Obama also planned to meet later in the day with business leaders and opposition leaders and attend a conference on civil society. Mr. Medvedev was also invited to the civil society event but declined.

Mr. Obama’s speech at the New Economic School was calculated to address longstanding Russian grievances against America, which many here suspect still seeks to hold Russia down, interfere in its internal affairs and extend its influence into its backyard. But the speech was not carried on any of the major Russian television networks, all of which are controlled by the state.

Mr. Obama did not paper over major policy differences and instead argued that Russia should not fear American intentions. “Whether America or Russia, neither of us would benefit from a nuclear arms race in East Asia or the Middle East,” he said. “That’s why we should be united in opposing North Korea’s efforts to become a nuclear power, and opposing Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Mr. Obama said he supports the right of countries like Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO despite Russian opposition. “America will never impose a security arrangement on another country,” he said. “For any country to become a member of an organization like NATO, for example, a majority of its people must choose to; they must undertake reforms; they must be able to contribute to the alliance’s mission. And let me be clear: NATO should be seeking collaboration with Russia, not confrontation.”

He also argued that American support for democracy was rooted in principle, not self interest, noting that he favors the restoration of the president of Honduras who was ousted in a coup even though he opposes American policies.

“We do so not because we agree with him,” Mr. Obama said. “We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not.”

The agreement between Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev set the parameters for negotiations on a treaty to be signed by the end of the year replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December. Under Monday’s agreement, the new treaty would reduce the ceiling on strategic warheads to somewhere between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads within seven years, down from the current limit of 2,200 warheads by 2012. The limit on delivery vehicles — land-based intercontinental missiles, submarine-based missiles and bombers — would be somewhere from 500 to 1,100, down from the 1,600 currently allowed.

The Russians are pushing for deeper cuts in delivery vehicles because their missiles generally fit more warheads than American missiles. American officials said this treaty would not address warheads stored in reserve, an issue the Russians have wanted to include in the past. Russian officials at first resisted putting any target numbers in Monday’s agreement, but Mr. Obama pressed Mr. Medvedev in a telephone call last week for specific commitments, aides said. Negotiators now have until December to narrow the range further and define counting rules and verification measures.

The United States reported in January that it had 1,198 delivery vehicles, and the Arms Control Association estimates that it deploys 2,200 warheads. Russia reported 816 delivery vehicles, and the association estimates that it deploys 2,000 to 3,000 warheads.

    Obama Speech Cites Shared U.S.-Russian Interests, NYT, 8.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/08/world/europe/08prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Says War With North Korea Not Imminent

 

July 7, 2009
Filed at 8:43 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Barack Obama says he doesn't think any war ''is imminent'' with North Korea.

Speaking in a network interview while meeting with Russian leaders, Obama was asked how precarious is the security situation in the wake of North Korea's nuclear tests and new sanctions as a result of them. In the CBS interview, he said, ''I don't think that any war is imminent with North Korea.'' He also said, ''I think they understand that they would be overwhelmed in a serious military conflict with the United States.''

Obama said in a speech to The New Economic School that the United States and Russia ''should be united'' in resisting Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

In an ABC interview, he said, ''Weve already seen a ship of

North Koreas turned back because of international effort to implement the sanctions and I think that is a positive step forward.''

    Obama Says War With North Korea Not Imminent, NYT, 7.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/07/world/AP-EU-Obama-North-Korea.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Visits Moscow as Nuclear Deal Is Negotiated

 

July 7, 2009
The New York Times
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY and PETER BAKER

 

MOSCOW — The United States and Russia, seeking to move forward on one of the most significant arms control treaties since the end of the cold war, have reached a preliminary agreement on cutting each country’s stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons, officials on both sides said Monday.

The so-called framework agreement was put together by negotiators as President Obama arrived here for his first Russian-American summit meeting. It was to be presented to Mr. Obama and Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, later on Monday for their approval.

The agreement would commit both sides to modest reductions in the legal limits on nuclear arsenals as they draft a new arms control treaty for the next generation.

The summit meeting comes less than a year after the conflict in Georgia caused the worst tensions between the United States and Russia since the end of the cold war. The Obama administration has said it wants to rebuild in relations, and the meeting will offer the most telling evidence so far about how difficult that may prove.

Both sides said they hoped that the nuclear agreement would effectively set the stage for a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a cold war-era pact that expires in December.

Beyond that, they said they wanted to build momentum for a broader agreement to be negotiated starting next year to impose deeper cuts in their nuclear arsenals and put the world on a path toward eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.

Russia has repeatedly objected to an American antimissile system in Eastern Europe, making clear that the United States needed to compromise on the system before Russia would sign off on an arms agreement. American officials say it is intended to ward off attacks from countries like Iran, but the Kremlin views it as a threat to Russia. On Monday, it appeared that the two sides decided to postpone addressing the missile system; they issued a joint statement indicating that they would continue to discuss it. They also agreed to do a joint assessment of any threats presented by Iran.

If finalized by the two presidents, as expected, the framework document would set the parameters for talks through the end of the year, according to officials.

Negotiators would be instructed to craft a treaty that would cut strategic warheads for each side to between 1,500 and 1,675, down from the limit of 2,200 slated to take effect in 2012 under the Treaty of Moscow signed by President George W. Bush.

The limit on delivery vehicles would be cut to between 500 and 1,100 from the 1,600 currently allowed under Start.

The countries would be required to meet the limits in the treaty within seven years, officials said.

Perhaps more important than the specific limits would be a revised and extended verification system that otherwise would expire with Start in December.

It was unclear how the document would address issues like conventional weapons or whether it would make any reference to defensive weapons, code for the planned American missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

While only a first step, the agreement on tap for Monday came only after arduous negotiations that at several points over the past few weeks appeared to be faltering.

In the end, though, both sides wanted to produce something so they could call the summit meeting a success and further the effort to improve relations, which soured in the final years of the presidency of Mr. Bush.

The two sides also planned to announce an agreement to resume military to military contacts nearly a year after Russia’s war with Georgia disrupted the relationship. They have also sealed a deal allowing the American military to fly up to 10 planes a day, or thousands a year, through Russian airspace to transport troops and weapons to the war in Afghanistan.

But the two presidents appeared to remain at odds over other issues that have divided the two countries, including the missile defense system and influence in other parts of the former Soviet Union.

In opening remarks at the Kremlin, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev said they hoped their meetings would improve relations in both tone and substance. Mr. Obama noted that the two had met at the Group of 20 summit meeting in April in London.

“We are confident that we can continue to build off the extraordinary discussions that we had in London,” Mr. Obama said, “and that on a whole host of issues — including security issues, economic issues, energy issues, environmental issues — that the United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences.”

Mr. Medvedev suggested Russia wanted to overcome recent strains as well. “It is our expectation,” he said, “that during the deliberations that we will have today and tomorrow, we will have full-fledged discussions regarding the relations between our two countries, a closing of some of the pages of the past and an opening of some of the pages of the future.”

The nuclear arms limits embraced by Monday’s preliminary agreement would codify and continue the natural reductions of each side’s arsenal that have been occurring since the end of the cold war.

The United States currently has 1,198 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-based missiles and bombers, which together are capable of delivering 5,576 warheads, according to its most recent Start report in January. Because not all of them are “operationally deployed,” the Arms Control Association estimates that the United States currently deploys at least 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads.

Russia reported in January that it has 816 delivery vehicles capable of delivering 3,909 warheads. While the number of deployed Russian strategic warheads is not known, the Arms Control Association estimated it between 2,000 and 3,000. Both sides also have more warheads that are in storage or awaiting dismantlement and the treaty discussions do not cover thousands more tactical nuclear weapons.

Even so, the proposed missile defense system looms over the summit meeting. Under the Bush plan, the system would be based in Poland and the Czech Republic. “While the previous administration of the United States took a very hard-headed position on this issue,” Mr. Medvedev said over the weekend, “the current administration is ready to discuss the topic. I think that we are fully able to find a reasonable solution here.”

While Mr. Obama is not as enthusiastic about the system as Mr. Bush, he has not abandoned it and is awaiting a review by his advisers. In the meantime, he has resisted linking the missile defense system to the arms reductions negotiations.

    Obama Visits Moscow as Nuclear Deal Is Negotiated, 7.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/07/world/europe/07prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Despite Crisis, Policy on Iran Is Engagement

 

July 6, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER

 

President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in separate interviews this weekend, said that the accelerating crackdown on opposition leaders in Iran in recent days would not deter them from seeking to engage the country’s top leadership in direct negotiations.

In an interview with The New York Times, a day before his scheduled departure for Moscow on Sunday, Mr. Obama said he had “grave concern” about the arrests and intimidation of Iran’s opposition leaders, but insisted, as he has throughout the Iranian crisis, that the repression would not close the door on negotiations with the Iranian government.

“We’ve got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Biden echoed the same themes in an interview conducted in Iraq and broadcast Sunday on the ABC News program “This Week.” But in a rare foray into one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East, the vice president argued that the United States “cannot dictate” Israel’s decisions about whether to strike the plants at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program. He said only Israelis could determine “that they’re existentially threatened” by the prospect that Iran would gain nuclear weapons capability.

The emphasis was different in a separate appearance by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who warned that any military strike on Iran “could be very destabilizing.” Asked to choose between military action and permitting Iran to gain nuclear weapons capability, he said both would be “really, really bad outcomes.”

Before Iran’s disputed election on June 12, the president’s top aides say, they received back-channel indications from Iran — from emissaries who claimed to represent the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — that the country would respond to Mr. Obama’s overtures this summer. But the crackdown and the divisions among senior clerics about the legitimacy of the election and Ayatollah Khamenei’s credibility have changed the political dynamics. Senior administration officials said they have heard nothing from Iran’s leaders.

The administration, meanwhile, has been preparing for two opposite possibilities: One in which the Iranian leadership seeks to regain a measure of legitimacy by taking up Mr. Obama’s offer to talk — a situation that could put Washington in the uncomfortable position of giving credibility to a government whose actions Mr. Obama has deplored — or one in which Iran rejects negotiations. Mr. Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in May that if there were no progress on the Iranian nuclear issue by the year’s end, the administration would turn to other steps, including sanctions. Mr. Obama hinted at an even shorter schedule during the interview on Saturday.

“We will have to assess in coming weeks and months the degree to which they are willing to walk through that door,” he said.

Mr. Obama declined to talk about the preparations for a tougher line. But as he prepared to leave on Sunday for Moscow, he said the United States now had more leverage to pressure Iran because he had succeeded in getting “countries like Russia and China to take these issues seriously,” noting that both had approved stricter sanctions on North Korea.

In his interview, Mr. Biden ventured into what is usually forbidden territory by discussing the possibility that Israel may decide it cannot wait to see if Mr. Obama’s diplomatic overtures work.

“Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else,” he said. But he added that the United States would not let any other nation determine its approach to national security, including the wisdom of engagement. “If the Iranians respond to the offer of engagement, we will engage,” he said.

Israeli officials have been deeply uncomfortable with Mr. Obama’s engagement offer, arguing that Iran is still adding centrifuges to its plant at Natanz, where it can enrich uranium. The last report of the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated roughly 7,000 centrifuges are now enriching uranium into fuel, but without further enrichment it is suitable only for nuclear power.

Last spring, when President George W. Bush was in office, Israeli officials approached the White House seeking bunker-busting bombs, refueling ability for its military aircraft, and overflight rights over Iraq necessary to strike Natanz. Mr. Bush deflected those requests.

American officials have said it is unlikely that Mr. Netanyahu would ask Mr. Obama for similar help. But that does not mean Israel cannot look elsewhere to develop and obtain that ability.

In comments on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Admiral Mullen seemed to underscore the Pentagon’s concern that an Israeli strike could start a broader conflict, and might simply drive the Iranian nuclear efforts deeper underground. He said any strike on Iran could be “very destabilizing — not just in and of itself but the unintended consequences of a strike like that.”

The implication was that following an attack on its nuclear plants, counterstrikes could be expected by Iran or its proxies, aimed at the United States, its troops in the region or its allies.

In the Saturday interview, Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge that the administration was still struggling for the right strategy to stop nations from obtaining nuclear weapons capacity, after so many mixtures of inducements and threats had failed.

“You know, I don’t think any administration over the last decade has had the perfect recipe for discouraging North Korea or Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” he said, in what was clearly intended as droll understatement. “We know that it is going to be a tough slog.”

 

 

 

Reporter Released in Iran

A freelance reporter for The Washington Times detained in Iran almost three weeks ago was released Sunday, according to news reports.

The reporter, Iason Athanasiadis, who has British and Greek citizenship, had been arrested on June 17 and accused of “illegal activities” during the protests that followed the June 12 election.

 

Thom Shanker and Brian Knowlton contributed reporting from Washington.

    Despite Crisis, Policy on Iran Is Engagement, NYT, 6.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/06/world/middleeast/06policy.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Syrian President Praises Obama

 

July 3, 2009
Filed at 11:03 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria's leader has praised President Barack Obama's outreach for dialogue and invited him to visit Damascus.

President Bashar Assad says in a telegram sent to Obama on the occasion of the July 4 Independence Day that the values Obama adopted during his election campaign and after becoming president are values that the world needs today.

The telegram was carried Friday by state-run News agency SANA.

In an interview with Britain's Sky News Web site dated Friday, Assad also invited Obama to visit Damascus in order to discuss Mideast peace.

Assad's comments came a week after Obama's administration said it plans to send back its ambassador to Syria, a post that has been vacant for four years.

    Syrian President Praises Obama, NYT, 3.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/03/world/AP-ML-Syria-US.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Columnist

Chinese Fireworks Display

 

July 3, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID BROOKS

 

On July Fourth, we think about our country and its future. But these days it’s impossible to think about America and its future role in the world without also thinking about China. This was the subject of a combative discussion this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

The agent provocateur was Niall Ferguson of Harvard. China and the U.S., he argued, used to have a symbiotic relationship and formed a tightly integrated unit that he calls Chimerica.

In this unit, China did the making, and the United States did the buying. China did the saving, while the U.S. did the spending. Between 1995 and 2005, the U.S. savings rate declined from about 5 percent to zero, while the Chinese savings rate rose from 30 percent to nearly 45 percent.

This savings diversion allowed the Chinese to plow huge amounts of capital into the U.S. and dollar-denominated assets. Cheap Chinese labor kept American inflation low. Chinese efforts to keep the renminbi from appreciating against the dollar kept our currency strong and allowed us to borrow at low interest rates.

During the first few years of the 21st century, Chimerica worked great. This unit accounted for about a quarter of the world’s G.D.P. and for about half of global growth. But a marriage in which one partner does all the saving and the other partner does all the spending is not going to last.

The frictions are building and will lead to divorce, conflict and potential catastrophe. China, Ferguson argued, is now decoupling from the United States. Chinese business leaders assume that American consumers will never again go on a spending binge. The Chinese are developing an economy that relies more on internal consumption.

Chinese officials are also aware that the U.S. will never get its fiscal house in order. There may be theoretical plans to reduce the federal deficit and the national debt, but there is no politically practical way to get there. Depreciation is inevitable and the Chinese are working to end the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency.

Chinese nationalism is also on the rise. The Internet has made young Chinese more nationalistic. The Chinese are acquiring resources all around the world and with them, willy-nilly, an overseas empire that threatens U.S. interests. The Chinese are building their Navy, a historic precursor to expanded ambitions and global conflict.

Think of China, Ferguson concluded, as Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany in the years before World War I: a growing, aggressive, nationalistic power whose ambitions will tear through pre-existing commercial ties and historic friendships.

James Fallows of The Atlantic has lived in China for the past three years. He agreed with parts of Ferguson’s take on the economic fundamentals, but seemed to regard Ferguson’s analysis of the Chinese psychology as airy-fairy academic theorizing. At one point, while Fallows was defending Chinese intentions, Ferguson shot back: “You’ve been in China too long.” Fallows responded that there must be a happy medium between being in China too long and being in China too little.

Fallows pointed out that there is no one thing called “China” or “the Chinese,” and that many of the most anti-American statements from Chinese officials are made to blunt domestic anxiety and make further integration possible. That integration, Fallows continued, is deep and will get deeper. Many, many Chinese leaders were educated in the U.S. and admire or at least respect it. If you go to cities like Xian, you find American and European aviation firms fully integrated into the commercial fabric there.

Fallows’s main argument, though, was psychological. When he lived in Japan in the 1980s, he said, he sometimes felt that the Japanese had a chip-on-their-shoulder attitude in which their success was bound to U.S. decline. He says he rarely got that feeling in China. Instead, he has described officials who are thrilled to be integrated in the world. Their mothers had bound feet. They themselves plowed the fields in the Cultural Revolution. Now they get to join the world.

Some of the officials interviewed by Fallows believe the U.S. is following unsustainable fiscal policies that will lead to decline, but they view this with frustration, not joy. Fallows doesn’t know what the future will hold, but he believes that Chinese officials still see the dollar as their least risky investment. Domestically, China will not turn democratic, but individual liberties will expand. He agreed that China and the U.S. will dominate the 21st century, but he painted the picture of a more benign cooperation.

I came to the debate agreeing more with Fallows and left the same way, but I was impressed by how powerfully Ferguson made his case. And I was struck by their agreement about what to do. This conversation, like many conversations these days, gets back to America’s debt. Until the U.S. gets its fiscal house in order, relations with countries like China will be fundamentally insecure.

    Chinese Fireworks Display, NYT, 3.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/03/opinion/03brooks.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

News Analysis

Obama’s Stance Deflects Chávez’s Finger-Pointing

 

July 1, 2009
The New York Times
By SIMON ROMERO

 

CARACAS, Venezuela — From the moment the coup in Honduras unfolded over the weekend, President Hugo Chávez had his playbook ready. He said Washington’s hands may have been all over the ouster, claiming that it financed President Manuel Zelaya’s opponents and insinuating that the C.I.A. may have led a campaign to bolster the putschists.

But President Obama firmly condemned the coup, defusing Mr. Chávez’s charges. Instead of engaging in tit-for-tat accusations, Mr. Obama calmly described the coup as “illegal” and called for Mr. Zelaya’s return to office. While Mr. Chávez continued to portray Washington as the coup’s possible orchestrator, others in Latin America failed to see it that way.

“Obama Leads the Reaction to the Coup in Honduras,” read the front-page headline on Tuesday in Estado de São Paulo, one of the most influential newspapers in Brazil, whose ties to Washington are warm.

In recent years, Mr. Chávez has often seemed to outmaneuver Washington on such issues. He exploited the Bush administration’s low standing after the Iraq war and its tacit approval for the brief coup that toppled him in 2002, and blamed the United States for ills in Venezuela and across the region.

Now such tactics may get less traction, as the Obama administration presses for a multilateral solution to the crisis in Honduras by turning to the Organization of American States. In doing so, Mr. Obama is moving away from policies that had isolated the United States in parts of the hemisphere.

“With Honduras, the Obama administration has taken the mainstream road that is more in sync with other countries in the region,” said Peter DeShazo, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Honduras, which has long had close ties to Washington, has more recently emerged as a proxy for the interests of both Venezuela and the United States. With subsidized oil, Mr. Chávez lured Honduras into his leftist alliance, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. Meanwhile, the United States did not cut off development and military aid to Honduras, in an attempt to maintain influence there.

But while Mr. Chávez has allies in Bolivia and Ecuador who succeeded in changing constitutions to stay in office longer — following his example in Venezuela — his intervention in Honduras heightened tension in that country. Reports that Venezuela sent a plane to Honduras last week with election material for a referendum at the heart of Mr. Zelaya’s clash with the Supreme Court stirred considerable unease there.

Mr. Chávez portrays his support for Mr. Zelaya as another example of championing his brand of democracy, which often centers on strong presidencies at the expense of other branches of government. But some countries in Latin America are resisting the trend of allowing leaders to extend their stay in office.

In Colombia, for instance, President Álvaro Uribe, a conservative populist and an American ally, is facing difficulties in a push to allow him to run for a third term. And in Argentina, the once popular former president, Néstor Kirchner, admitted defeat this week in congressional elections, throwing into doubt hopes for him and his wife, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to extend their dynasty in the next presidential election.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama is seeking to engage Brazil more deeply, reportedly floating the appointment of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s leftist president, as head of the World Bank. The move, if it materializes, would break the tradition of nominating an American to the post and could bolster support for Washington-based multilateral institutions while blunting Mr. Chávez’s attempts to create his own rival institutions.

Doing this while largely ignoring Mr. Chávez’s taunts holds risks for Mr. Obama, particularly if information comes to light showing that there is some truth in Mr. Chávez’s claims.

The Venezuelan president will not forget that the C.I.A. had knowledge of the coup that ousted him in 2002 yet did nothing to prevent it, and that Washington has a recent history of providing aid to groups that are critical of his government, opening the United States to charges of destabilization.

Moreover, Mr. Chávez’s antiestablishment rhetoric, aimed at elites in Washington and elsewhere, still resounds among many people here in Latin America.

But for now, at least, Mr. Obama’s nonconfrontational diplomacy seems to have caught Mr. Chávez off balance. “Chávez is beginning to understand that he’s dealing with someone with a very different approach than his predecessor,” said Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington policy research group.

Mr. Chávez’s outsize role in the Honduras crisis, which involved threats of war if Venezuela’s Embassy in Honduras were searched, belies the limits of Venezuela’s influence in the hemisphere as the United States recalibrates its policies in a way that evokes the pragmatic diplomacy of the region’s other power, Brazil.

After the dust settles in Honduras, Mr. Chávez’s alliance will still include some of the region’s poorest and most conflict-ridden nations, like Bolivia and Nicaragua, with larger countries choosing other development paths.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chávez’s threats of belligerence in Central America led one opposition party here, Acción Democrática, to issue a statement on Monday that was full of irony: “Hugo Chávez has become the George Bush of Latin America.”

Obama’s Stance Deflects Chávez’s Finger-Pointing, NYT, 1.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/world/americas/01venez.html