This summary briefing comes to us through the courtesy of Just Foreign Policy.
1) The British defense secretary, Bob Ainsworth, said NATO should not seek the Taliban’s unconditional surrender and warned against “setting the bar too high” for peace talks, the Guardian reports. Ainsworth argued it was unrealistic to require insurgents to support western-style democracy before entering dialogue. “Afghanistan is a conservative Muslim country. It’s never going to be Bavaria or Surrey,” Ainsworth said. “Neither must we wait until there has been victory before we try to reconcile and bring in those elements from the insurgency who are prepared to come across.” US envoy Holbrooke “distanced” the US from talks, the Guardian says. But Ainsworth disagreed, saying: “I don’t believe that reintegration is something you do after victory. This is not total war. We’re not looking for unconditional surrender in Afghanistan. We’re looking for the stabilisation of a country and its participation in the world in a manner that doesn’t threaten its neighbours and doesn’t threaten us. “We mustn’t raise that bar too high in terms of our preparedness to bring people in. Neither should we wait until there is real victory before we try to reconcile or reintegrate those elements in the insurgency who are prepared to come across.”
2) The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for trade policies that divide the party, The Hill reports. USTR Kirk met members of the business-friendly New Democrats Coalition to discuss the trade agenda. The Democrats spoke to Kirk about pending trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that have stalled in the Democratic-led Congress. Legislation calling for existing trade deals to be re-negotiated has won the support of half the House Democratic caucus.
3) The G7 countries [these countries control a working majority of the voting shares at the IMF, World Bank, and other international financial institutions – JFP] called for Haiti’s multilateral debt to be cancelled, the BBC reports. The BBC article specifically cites the US, Britain, and Canada as endorsing the call for multilateral debt cancellation.
4) Japan’s new reformist government is questioning whether it should spend $2 billion a year to host 47,000 U.S. troops, AP reports. Japan covers much of the cost for supporting US troops, including utilities, maintenance and physical upgrades plus the wages of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians working on the bases. “It’s not a sacred cow, and we should cut deeper,” the head of one of Japan’s three coalition parties in the Cabinet said after a budget review session in late November.
5) US and British troops poised to assault the Taliban stronghold of Marjah have begun targeting insurgent leaders for assassination, the Times of London reports.
6) Seven civilians were shot dead on Friday as they were apparently mistaken for a group of insurgents trying to cross the frontier from Pakistan, the New York Times reports.
7) Secretary of State Clinton’s effort on CNN to conflate the “threat” from Iran with that from nuclear-armed North Korea was “just bizarre,” writes Juan Cole on his Informed Comment blog. Iran allows UN inspections of its nuclear facilities; there is no dispositive evidence of a weapons program. President Ahmadinejad made headlines by directing Iran’s (regularly inspected) nuclear research establishment to begin attempting to enrich uranium to 19.75% so that that country will eventually have the ability to supply its own fuel for its sole reactor that produces medical isotopes for treating, e.g., cancer. Iran is openly announcing this decision and is informing the IAEA, in accordance with the NPT. The list of countries capable of producing LEU of 19.75% includes Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Holland, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the US. There would be nothing extraordinary about Iran joining this list, and none of the others on it except N. Korea is being sanctioned – and that is for constructing a bomb, which Iran is not doing. It is not dangerous for Iran to produce low enriched uranium, whether for reactor fuel for the nuclear electric plants it is building or for its small medical isotopes reactor. It would be dangerous if Iran determined to enrich to 95% to make a bomb. In order to do so, it would have to evade all US electronic surveillance, withdraw from the NPT and throw out the UN inspectors. No country being actively and continuously inspected by the IAEA has ever developed an atomic bomb.
8) Doctors and patients say one child died and the condition of critically ill children from Haiti’s earthquake worsened amid stricter rules over medical flights to Miami hospitals and others in the United States, the Miami Herald reports. Doctors in Haiti say the new U.S. criteria for transporting Haitian quake victims is so strict that hardly anybody qualifies.
9) Iraq’s government indicated it would accept the jurisdiction of the appeals court whose ruling postponed the disqualifications of more than 500 candidates, the New York Times reports. Maliki’s government had denounced that ruling as unconstitutional, but after meeting with the country’s top judge and parliamentary leaders Saturday, he appeared to have backed down.
10) Costa Ricans elected ruling party candidate Laura Chinchilla as president, the New York Times reports. The dominant theme of the campaign was voters’ concerns over rising crime; Chinchilla promised to raise spending on security by 50 percent. Chinchilla promised continuity with the “free-trade” policies of outgoing President Arias.