Foreign Policy Briefing

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U.S./Top News
1) A proposal to swap the bulk of Iran’s enriched uranium for fuel for a medical reactor appeared to be revived as President Ahmadinejad said Iran had “no problem” with a deal brokered by the IAEA, the Washington Post reports. U.S. officials reacted cautiously to Ahmadinejad’s remarks. “If Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect an updated Iranian position, we look forward to Iran informing the IAEA,” said a White House spokesman. The fuel is needed to operate a U.S.-supplied nuclear research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes crucial for diagnosis and treatment for an estimated 850,000 kidney, heart and cancer patients. Doctors in Iran warn that domestic production will dry up when the research reactor runs out of fuel, perhaps as soon as this spring.

2) Three US soldiers were killed in a bomb attack that marked the first fatal Taliban ambush on the US military in Pakistan, the Guardian reports. Dozens of teenage girls were caught in the blast outside their secondary school in Pakistan’s north-west; three girls were killed. The US embassy said the Americans had been assigned to help train the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force. Until now the only US soldier to die at the hands of the Taliban in Pakistan was an airforce engineer killed in the 2008 Marriot hotel bombing.

3) A report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research says that the IMF must reconsider its policies in Latvia, which likely won’t be able to escape its “Great Depression” unless it abandons its current exchange rate with the euro. Western European banks that made bad loans in Latvia must accept some of the losses that would come with a devaluation, CEPR says.

4) White House counterterrorism chief Brennan says none of about 48 Guantanamo detainees released or transferred by the Obama administration has participated or been suspected of participating in subsequent “recidivist” activity, the Washington Post reports, in contrast with 20 percent of about 540 detainees released by the Bush administration.

5) An Iraqi appeals court temporarily overruled the disqualification of hundreds of candidates in next month’s election for having ties to the Baath Party, the New York Times reports. The court ruled it would reconsider efforts to ban candidates after the vote. That raised the possibility of ousting newly elected members of Parliament. Some of those disqualified appeared to have only tenuous ties, if any, to the Baath Party, the Times says.

6) U.S. and Russian arms-control negotiators have reached an “agreement in principle” on the first nuclear-arms-reduction treaty in nearly two decades, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal would bring down deployed nuclear warheads and limit the number of missiles and bombers that can deliver them. Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association said the agreement is a milestone, the first arms-control treaty to not only set goals on warhead deployments but to establish strict limits, with verification measures to hold each side to those limits.

Israel/Palestine
7) A high-ranking Israeli commander has acknowledged that the Israeli army went beyond its previous rules of engagement on the protection of civilian lives in order to minimise military casualties during last year’s Gaza war, The Independent reports. Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said the commander’s acknowledgement was “a smoking gun.” The revelation will put more pressure on the Israeli government to set up an independent inquiry, as demanded by the Goldstone Report, the Independent says.





Afghanistan
8) Even after a recent increase, Afghan police are still paid less than the cost of living for a typical Afghan family, encouraging corruption, the New York Times reports. A fourth of the officers quit every year. The NATO general in charge of training the Afghan police mocked NATO claims that the Afghan National Police are “in the fight.”

Haiti
9) Advocacy groups and experts are calling on the U.S. to ends its practice of withholding aid to undermine elected leaders in Haiti that it doesn’t like, Inter Press Service reports. Monika Kalra Varma of the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights cited the refusal of the Inter-American Development Bank to release funds earmarked for water projects, which would have benefited the poor. “The IDB is controlled by its largest donor – the U.S. – and the U.S. did not like Haiti’s government of the day,” she said.

Colombia
10) U.S. military aid to Colombia would be cut 20% in President Obama’s budget, according to Colombia Reports. Defense Minister Gabriel Silva will travel to Washington in February to lobby for the continuation of Plan Colombia.

Mexico
11) Mexican President Felipe Calderon said drug violence in Mexico reflects demand for narcotics in the U.S. and easy access to weapons, Bloomberg reports. “We are right next to the biggest drug consumer in the world,” Calderon told reporters in Tokyo. The U.S. also “doesn’t have the least objection, any scruples, about selling all the arms it can to our country.” The remarks followed the killing of at least 16 students in Ciudad Juarez. More than 90 percent of guns used in violent crimes in Mexico are brought in illegally from the U.S., according to the US ATF.

12) Reporters Without Borders said Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for the press, after a third journalist was reported killed within a month, EFE reports. “The authorities are failing to respond adequately to a wave of threats against media personnel by presumed drug traffickers and, in some cases, by local officials,” RSF said. 61 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000.

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