This summary briefing comes to us through the courtesy of Just Foreign Policy.
1) Contractors of a spy program that the Pentagon is investigating gathered word of a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother and Mullah Baradar, a top Taliban leader who was arrested weeks later in Pakistan, CNN reports. [This CNN report raises the question of whether this intelligence contributed to Baradar’s arrest, and whether some US officials sought with the arrest to deliberately undermine the talks, which were supported by other US officials – JFP.]
2) Staffan de Mistura, the new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, met delegates from Hezb-i-Islami, one of three insurgent factions fighting against foreign troops in Afghanistan, Reuters reports. Hezb-i-Islami negotiator Mohammad Daoud Abedi told Reuters its leadership was ready to make peace and act as a “bridge” to the Taliban if Washington fulfils plans to start pulling out troops next year. Abedi said the decision to present a peace plan was a direct response to a speech by President Obama in December, when Obama announced plans to deploy an extra 30,000 U.S. troops but set a mid-2011 target to begin a withdrawal.
3) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to balk at US demands he find a way to reverse the East Jerusalem housing plan in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood that was announced during Vice President Biden’s trip to Israel this month, the New York Times reports. The Obama administration also wanted Netanyahu to allow negotiations with the Palestinians to focus on substantive issues like borders and security. Palestinian President Abbas will decide whether he is willing to go through with the proximity talks after he receives a report from the White House about the discussions with Netanyahu, Palestinian officials said.
4) The Wall Street Journal says the US has softened proposed UN sanctions to win the backing of China and Russia, AFP reports: proposals that would have closed international airspace and waters to Iranian state-owned air cargo and shipping lines had been scrapped. The proposed package of sanctions had also been stripped of plans targeting insurance for certain Iranian companies and the sale of Iranian bonds.
5) Attacks in international media on Brazil’s President Lula for refusing to toe the US line on Iran are predictable, writes Mark Weisbrot in Folha de Sao Paulo. Once Washington begins a campaign against a demonized government, the vast majority of the international media jumps on the bandwagon, and anyone who gets in the way of it will pay a price. But Lula has taken a principled position in favor of negotiation and against another war.
6) US and Russian officials say they have broken a logjam in arms control negotiations and expect to sign a treaty next month to cut their nuclear arsenals, the New York Times reports. The US apparently agreed to less intrusive inspections in exchange for Russia agreeing that missile defense only be mentioned in nonbinding language in the preamble of the agreement. A Russian arms control adviser said Russia would retain the ability to scrap the treaty if US missile defenses became a threat.
7) Human rights groups and legal experts say an Obama Administration proposal for the Bagram prison in Afghanistan to take over the “indefinite detention without trial or legal recourse” function of Guantanamo suggests that Obama’s policies are becoming more like those of Bush, the Los Angeles Times reports. Human rights activists have objected to what they see as a trend in the administration toward favoring long-term detention of terrorism suspects and military commission proceedings rather than public court trials. “That would be George Bush’s wish list,” said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU.
8) The White House asked Congress for a $2.8 billion emergency aid package to assist Haiti, the Washington Post reports. At least $1 billion of the amount was to reimburse the Defense Department and USAID for money already spent. Some of the money would also go toward paying back Florida and other states for providing health care to Haitian victims. The request includes at least $1 billion in new money for relief and reconstruction, including more than $4oo million for toward rebuilding homes, the electrical system and agricultural and industrial facilities in Haiti and $51 million for rural economic growth and development. The aid package did not appear to contain money for education, which was described as a “priority” by Sen. Lugar.
9) Some say the influx of internationally provided free medical care is disrupting Haiti’s health care system, though they concede demand cannot be met without international help, the Washington Post reports. Some worry that Haitian doctors will leave the country. “There must be a well-planned transition period to subsidize the Haitian health-care system, have [NGOs] work directly with Haitian providers, and to train sufficient providers and nurses to be able to meet the population’s needs,” said an expert at Johns Hopkins. A spokeswoman for the WHO said “the international community working in health will not leave before a system is in place, and this is precisely what we are working on . . . to build an accessible system better than what was here before the earthquake.”
10) Some US Marines in Marjah say the Afghan soldiers alongside them are lazy and incompetent, McClatchy reports. One platoon leader recently avoided taking Afghan soldiers on patrol in favor of elite Afghan police officers because the soldiers were hours away from ending their tour of duty. “I’m not f***ing with the ANA,” the platoon leader said. “F*** those guys. They don’t give a f***. They’re leaving tomorrow.”
11) U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a document dubbed “the blueprint,” which covers all issues, including Jerusalem, that need to be resolved to let talks go forward, the Washington Post reports. U.S. officials have pressed Israel to take actions to encourage Palestinians to attend indirect talks, including canceling the Ramat Shlomo project in East Jerusalem, making concrete gestures such as a prisoner release and adding substantive rather than procedural issues to the agenda for talks. Some U.S. requests have not been made public.
12) The “blowup” between the US and Israel shows the relationship is changing, writes Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post. Obama and his aides have cast the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a core U.S. national security interest. Gen. Petraeus told Congress: “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel.” His comments raised eyebrows in Washington and overseas because they suggested U.S. military officials were embracing the idea that failure to resolve the conflict had begun to imperil U.S. lives. Secretary Clinton warned AIPAC that whether Israelis like it or not, “the status quo” is not sustainable. The drawing of such lines by the administration has been noticed in the Middle East. “Israeli policies … are causing the United States real pain beyond the Arab-Israeli arena…and therefore the U.S. is reacting with unusually strong, public and repeated criticisms of Israel’s settlement policies,” wrote Rami Khouri, editor of Beirut’s Daily Star. “At the same time Washington repeats [its commitment] to Israel’s basic security in its 1967 borders, suggesting that the U.S. is finally clarifying that its support for Israel does not include unconditional support for Israel’s colonization policies.”