This summary briefing comes to us through the courtesy of Just Foreign Policy.
1) Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO offensive, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports. “If (NATO forces) don’t avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure,” said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
2) Pakistan has told the US it wants a central role in resolving the Afghan war and has offered to mediate with Taliban factions, the New York Times reports. So far, the US has been more eager to push Pakistan to fight Taliban than to negotiate with them, and has not endorsed Pakistan’s new approach. One strand of thinking within the Obama administration calls for allowing the Pakistanis to keep the Haqqanis as part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence in southern Afghanistan, but only if Pakistan forces the Haqqanis to break with Al Qaeda and to push militants out of its areas, a US official said.
3) The Washington Post refers to trade agreements negotiated with South Korea and Colombia as “free trade” agreements even though an important part of both deals involves increasing protectionist barriers in the form of patent and copyright protection, notes Dean Baker in Beat the Press. This increased protection will raise costs and lead to increased economic distortions.
4) Doctors Without Borders praised an Indian court for rejecting an appeal from pharmacuetical giant Bayer demanding that India tie registration of medicines to their patent status. “We are delighted with this decision – at the moment in India we are seeing a number of multinational pharmaceutical companies trying to use litigation to stifle generic competition,” MSF said. “By rejecting Bayer’s attempts to introduce patent linkage, the Indian courts have ensured that public health safeguards like compulsory licensing can be used to open up generic production of life-saving medicines including antiretrovirals for millions in India and beyond.” [Access to generic medicines in many poor countries depends crucially on access to generics in India and Brazil, because these (even poorer) countries have no hope of generating their own generic pharmaceutical industry – JFP.]
5) Even if the reformers miraculously swept into power in Iran, that wouldn’t help much on the nuclear front, notes Robert Wright in the New York Times. On the nuclear dispute with the West, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has been at least as hard line as President Ahmadinejad [actually, much more so, as Wright subsequently explains – JFP.] In October, negotiators reached a deal that could have defused the nuclear issue, at least for a while. Then, after Ahmadinejad hailed this deal as a “victory” for Iran, it was denounced not just by some conservatives in Tehran but by the “progressive” Mousavi. The deal collapsed, and Ahmadinejad eventually discovered the wisdom of Mousavi’s position. An analysis by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 78 percent of Mousavi supporters say Iran should not “give up its nuclear activities regardless of the circumstances.” But most Iranians said they would accept intrusive international inspections if the West would concede Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Unfortunately, the US has yet to agree to this bargain.
6) Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim said the world still has “room for dialogue” with Iran, Bloomberg reports. Amorim said Iran has a right to develop a “peaceful” nuclear program and shouldn’t develop nuclear weapons, and that tighter economic sanctions on Iran would hurt the general population.
7) The UN said efforts to persuade Afghan farmers to stop growing opium poppies have failed in the past year, predicting as much land will be under poppy cultivation this year as in 2009, Reuters reports. A report found that a downward trend in poppy cultivation, which fell by more than a third from 2007 to 2009, had ended.
8) Lebanon’s prime minister voiced concern Wednesday about “escalating” Israeli war threats, and said his government will support Hezbollah if a new war breaks out with Israel, AP reports. “We hear a lot of Israeli threats day in and day out,” Prime Minister Hariri said. “Every day we have Israeli warplanes entering Lebanese airspace. This is something that is escalating, and this is something that is really dangerous…I think they’re (Israelis) betting that there might be some division in Lebanon, if there is a war against us,” Hariri said. “There won’t be a division in Lebanon. We will stand against Israel.”
9) Sponsors of two bills allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba hope to revive them this year, Reuters reports. Republican Jeff Flake said the votes were there to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act this year but the Democratic majority in the House was divided over whether to take it to the floor for a vote. The bill has 178 backers in the House, 40 votes short of the 218 needed but still a “big number,” Flake said. The U.S. National Tour Association estimates at least 850,000 Americans would fly to Cuba in the first year after sanctions were lifted.