Foreign Policy Briefing 3/13/10


This summary briefing comes to us through the courtesy of Just Foreign Policy.


U.S./Top News

1) Secretary of State Clinton warned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Friday that Israel had sent a “deeply negative signal” about the U.S.-Israeli relationship and urged him to take immediate steps to demonstrate it was interested in renewing efforts at a Middle East peace agreement, the Washington Post reports. Her call, made in the wake of the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden when Israel announced it would build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, was an unusually tough message for the longtime U.S. ally, the Post says.

2) U.S. officials say a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment, the Los Angeles Times reports. “The Afghan Taliban does not want to be seen as, or heard of, having the same relationship with AQ that they had in the past,” said a US official. The tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda. Indications of Al Qaeda-Taliban strains are at odds with recent public statements by the Obama administration, the LAT says.

3) It is far from clear that Persian Gulf nations will ultimately be willing to use their influence to drum up Chinese support for tougher sanctions, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officials throughout the Persian Gulf have long said they will abide by any new sanctions regime established by the UN that has the force of international law. But Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates have resisted pressure from Washington to curb their extensive trade ties with Iran. U.A.E. officials argue that the small nation located only a few dozen miles from the Iranian mainland should remain neutral in the international struggle to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

4) A US pact with the Afghan Shinwari tribe to fight the Taliban appears to have been derailed by a violent split within the tribe over a land dispute, the New York Times reports. At least 13 people have been killed in fighting within the tribe. The fighting raised questions about how effectively the US military could use tribes as part of its counterinsurgency strategy, the NYT says.

5) The State Department is blaming the Iraqi government for arbitrary killings of civilians and other human rights abuses, AP reports. The department’s annual human rights report, released Thursday, also highlighted abuses in Afghanistan. The report said Pakistan saw extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances last year. The annual report is often dismissed by foreign leaders who say the US should focus on its own abuses and civilian deaths that result from its military actions. A US official said said that later this year, the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report will for the first time rank the US as it does foreign governments.

6) Under international law, CIA agents and CIA contractors who arm and pilot armed unmanned drones over combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan are unlawful combatants, like the fighters they target, writes Gary Solis of Georgetown Law in the Washington Post. If captured, the unlawful acts committed during their direct participation makes them subject to prosecution in civilian courts or military tribunals. If the CIA civilian personnel recently killed by a suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, were directly involved in supplying targeting data, arming or flying drones in the combat zone, they were lawful targets of the enemy.

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7) Marjah is just a scattering of dusty villages set amid 17,000 hectares of poppy fields, Time Magazine reports. But U.N. reckons Marjah has the world’s highest concentration of opium production. Many Western and Afghan counternarcotics experts want to destroy the poppy crop. But Gen. McChrystal and his military commanders have warned that destroying the crop would enrage the population. Military commanders advocate simply buying up this year’s harvest and persuading farmers to grow something else next season. McChrystal is likely to win the debate, Time says.

8) Some analysts said President Karzai’s main mission in his trip to Pakistan was to seek Pakistani help in promoting conciliatory gestures and peace efforts toward the Taliban, the New York Times reports. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid said the arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan were a source of “a very serious underlying tension” between the countries. “Some of the more pragmatic Taliban have been arrested by the ISI,” Rashid said, “and this has caused consternation in Kabul because these were the same people who were holding secret talks with the Kabul administration, and the other suggestion is that a number of hard-liners will replace Mullah Baradar and those arrested.” Rashid said Afghans were eager for reconciliation with the Taliban. The Americans are not fully on board but the British are pushing Karzai for it, he said. “India, of course, I think has got quite a fit that Pakistan is muscling in by making these arrests,” he said.
9) Yemeni authorities stormed local offices of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and confiscated broadcasting equipment in apparent response to their coverage of the country’s south, where a protest movement is pushing to restore the region’s independence, AP reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a February report that Yemen’s government is one of the most media repressive in the Middle East, banning some newspapers, blocking Web sites and setting up a special court for cases involving media. Some journalists have also gone missing, the report said.

10) Thousands of protestors gathered for demonstrations across Yemen calling for the military to withdraw from southern cities and for the government to halt a sweeping campaign of arrests, Reuters reports. Two protesters were shot dead as security forces tried to quash a separatist demonstration in a southern province. Yemen earlier this week offered to hold talks with southern separatists and hear their grievances. But diplomats say previous talks offers by the government have not been followed by action to tackle southern complaints that the government neglects the south and treats southerners unfairly, including in property disputes, jobs and pension rights.

11) The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a report Wednesday which criticized the ongoing violations of human rights and abuses of power taking place in Colombia, says Colombia Reports. The report said a “climate of terror” still exists for union members, indigenous community leaders, Afro-Colombians, representatives of displaced populations, judges, lawyers, and journalists.

12) British diplomats have protested to the State Department over Washington’s response to the latest dispute over the Falkland Islands, the Times of London reports. British anger mounted when Secretary of State Clinton endorsed Argentine President Kirchner’s call for talks on sovereignty. UK diplomats sought clarification of the US position after a State Department spokesman answered a question about the Falklands by saying: “Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it.” The State Department denied any friction with “our British friends” over the Falklands but stood by everything Clinton said in her meeting with Kirchner.

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