Iran Agrees to More Nuclear Talks

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, courtesy of Christian Science Monitor

Iran has agreed to participate in additional nuclear talks this May with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. Although the specifics of the agreement are unknown, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, told the New York Times that Iran seems “serious about negotiations”.

Despite this step forward, Iran’s agreement to participate in talks, will not change the status quo. An American official explains that even though Iran is cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency, current sanctions will not be removed, and President Obama has warned that “the window for diplomacy is closing”. Many are concerned that further diplomatic talks are only stagnating the problem and pushing a resolution further down the road, giving Iran additional time to develop its nuclear capacity.

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India-Pakistan Relations: Peace Through Economics?

Pakistani Truck

Photo Courtesy Of AFP/Getty Images

In the last half century, India-Pakistan relations have seen three wars; threats of nuclear force; and strains due to a variety of hot button issues. They include terrorism, control of water resources, and the territory of Kashmir. The NYTimes’ Jim Yardley explains that new economic ties may prove to be more successful than traditional diplomacy at repairing this relationship. Last February, the first Indian trade show was held in Pakistan. There were over ten thousand participants including India’s and Pakistan’s commerce ministers. Yardley explains that these new ties to Pakistan are part of a larger trend, with India increasingly relying  on the private sector to “serve as an intermediary abroad”.

Both the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry have increased their international presence, opening offices around the world and hosting diplomatic events. Policymakers are cautiously optimistic that cooperation on economic issues may spillover into defense issues. The CII has previously facilitated better relations between India and the US, cohosting an event with the US Aspen Institute to bring top American and Indian thinkers together in Udaipur. Now, the US and India are military partners, participating in joint exercises.

Not everyone, however, has responded positively to India’s increased economic ties. Some have pointed to the private sector, which was averse to political change, to explain India’s tentative response to the Arab Spring. Pakistan itself may be less receptive, as many Pakistani interests groups are fundamentally opposed to cooperation on issues like Kashmir and terrorism. Yet relations are improving. India’s middle class has vested interests in economic growth, and may have an interest to open a dialogue and cooperate. Ashok Malik explains that the “the growth phenomenon has made the Indian middle class less tolerant of adventurism, lawlessness, and war”. After February’s trade show, Pakistan agreed to increase the number of goods imported from India, and just last week Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited India, the first visit by a Pakistani President in seven years. This may suggest that India and Pakistan are ready to move past the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and reopen a cooperative dialogue. 

-Kimberly Hopewell

China Increases Military Spending; US Seeks Transparency

Chinese Stealth Fighter (Photo courtesy of Telegraph)

China announced a plan to increase its military spending by 11 percent last Sunday, and analysts believe this number may be “significantly higher” because China’s budget excludes nuclear missile spending, confirming concerns in Washington about a Chinese military buildup. Over the past decade, there have only been two years when China did not increase its military spending by at least ten percent. The New York Times explains that “the official statement did not give details of what weapons systems China is developing or offer a description of military strategy”. However, the Pentagon’s 2011 report to Congress said that China had acquired “nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and more sophisticated radar systems”. This buildup may also include preparations for cyber warfare and space capabilities.

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Russia: Elections 2012

Image Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Tensions continue to rise as the Russian Presidential elections approach. Last, Wednesday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that his opponents might kill one of their own and frame him for the murder, telling the media that “They may – I beg your pardon – waste someone and then blame the authorities”. Putin also promised his supporters “higher pensions, firm retirement age (60 for men, 55 for women), and free media” if he gets reelected. He also promised that state sponsored-television would no longer have commercials.

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Dry Pipes and Powerless Plugs: South Africa’s Corruption Crisis

The South African government established extensive government programs to aid the poor at the end of apartheid in 1994. Yet while the programs have helped to set families up in their first homes, many are still without running water or electricity.  The New York Times reports that many provincial governments have gone bankrupt and that for some, the “dry pipes and powerless plugs” simply reflect the corruption which continues to plague South Africa.

In provinces like Limpopo, much of the budget has been squandered in side payments to private businesses favored by government officials. Dan Sebabi, a leader of a trade union coalition in Limpopo, explains that there are many “young leaders who are politicians by day and business men by night”. Audits revealed that just 3 out of 39 of South Africa’s were free from corruption last year. The Economist reports that almost 30 billion rand a year is lost in fraudulent deals.

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French Presidential Elections: Merkel Backs Sarkozy

Francois Hollande’s campaign has issued a warning to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently backed Nicolas Sarkozy in the upcoming French presidential election. Hollande’s camp said that the Chancellor was “obliged to show a certain reserve”. It is suspected that Sarkozy, who is behind in the polls, pushed for the endorsement, since it is highly unusual for German politicians to back candidates in foreign elections. Reuters reporter Brian Rohanthat this endorsement could act as a double-edged sword, “if voters view her involvement as unwelcome interference”.

Merkel’s backing, however, will play to Sarkozy’s strengths. He has consistently emphasized the importance of a French-German union during the European financial crisis. Stressing this partnership will only help Sarkozy’s campaign, which has been beleaguered by his controversial domestic reform policies. Just last week, Sarkozy announced a plan to raise consumer taxes in an effort to reduce the national deficit and improve the French economy by reducing the cost of labor. Under the new plan, the consumer tax would increase by 1.6 percent, to 21.2 percent. Last year Sarkozy made a similarly controversial decision to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62, a change which socialist candidate Francois Hollande has promised to reverse.

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U.S. to Downsize Embassy in Baghdad

The U.S. plans to downsize its 104 acre, 6 billion dollar a year, embassy site in Baghdad. Officials claim that the size of the facility and the 16,000 person staff can no longer be justified. The New York Times reports that the State Department has been plagued by “Iraqi obstructionism” and that it is “unable to handle many of the tasks previously performed by the military”.  Diplomats are largely confined to the facility due to security concerns. In addition, border crossings have become more complicated; the Prime Ministers office must now approve American visas and food convoys are often delayed. American officials now suspect “that a quieter and humbler diplomatic presence could actually result in greater leverage over Iraqi affairs, particularly in mediating a political crisis that flared just as the troops were leaving”. 

Courtesy Of: The New York Times

U.S., Japan “Scale Back” Plans to Relocate Base

U.S. Japan Base

Above: Marines boarding plane at Futenma air base

"The U.S. and Japanese governments, bowing to local opposition, agreed to scale back a long-controversial plan to relocate American military forces on the southern island of Okinawa. The change will set aside plans made six years ago to build a new Marine Corps base in Okinawa, but allows the two countries to move ahead with transferring thousands of Marines to Guam.” This revision of the 2006 realignment plan comes at a time when the U.S. is trying to diversify and strengthen its presence in the Western Pacific. While, the U.S. has “pledged to maintain a strong presence in Japan and South Korea”, the Wall Street Journal reports that “Such moves…have worried some in Japan that their country is becoming less important as an ally to the U.S.”.

Courtesy of: The Wall Street Journal

"Some 3,000 protestors gathered in Moscow’s Bolotnaya square Saturday for a rally against election violations as Russia’s Communist party nominated its leader to challenge Vladimir Putin in March presidential polls."
Courtesy of AFP (Agence France-Presses)

"Some 3,000 protestors gathered in Moscow’s Bolotnaya square Saturday for a rally against election violations as Russia’s Communist party nominated its leader to challenge Vladimir Putin in March presidential polls."

Courtesy of AFP (Agence France-Presses)

Britain-France Military Pact Still Intact Post Veto

  

On December 9th, British Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed a new EU treaty created to revive the Euro through tighter financial regulations and alliances; Britain was the only country of the 27 EU members not to sign. Jacques Reland of the Global Policy Institute explained that, “For France and Germany EU integration is crucial for national interests,” while this is not the case for Britain. Cameron argued that the new accord would give Europe too big of a hand in London’s economy.

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France to Downsize Tehran Embassy

Raid on UK Embassy in Tehran (Photo: WSJ)

Raid on UK Embassy in Tehran (Photo: WSJ)

France is reducing the number of staffers at its embassy in Iran, in response to an attack on the British embassy last week. Repatriations will begin this week for some of the 20 to 30 French citizens who work at the embassy; the embassy itself will remain open. This action was taken as a security measure, as France may be future a target for protestors after leading the charge for an Iranian oil embargo and freezing Iran’s central bank assets. BBC’s Hugh Schofield explains that “though France may not be as directly in the firing line of Iranian hostility as Britain, it is not far off’.

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France Pushes for Iranian Oil Embargo

Last Thursday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe announced plans to impose a unilateral ban on Iranian oil imports. This maneuver came in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report outlining Tehran’s nuclear program. While Iran claimed to be pursuing “peaceful atomic energy”, it is largely believe to have a military component. The IAEA report, assembled by10 foreign intelligence agencies, stated that there is now ‘credible’ evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear arms. Sarkozy called the Iranian threat “unacceptable” and French Defense Minister Gerard Lonquet said that the report was “a real source of worry”.

After the initial announcement, French officials clarified that France would not act alone and would only move forward with the plan in conjunction with other European countries. If France acted alone, its threat would be largely empty. While all EU countries combined import 18% of the Iranian oil market, French purchases alone account for less than 50,000 of the 450,000 barrels sold in the EU per day. Britain has expressed support for such an embargo, but Spain and Italy, the two largest European importers of Iranian oil are significantly more dependent and will likely oppose such efforts.

The impact of the sanctions would be questionable even with full European participation. Yves Bonnet, president of the International Centre for Research and Studies on Terrorism, explains that, “The international community has tried everything — persuasion, negotiations, and then sanctions…but they have been faced with an Iranian government that has presented a façade of diplomacy, but has really pursued its operations underground.” Defense Minister Lonquet also noted that it would be highly unlikely for China and Russia to go along with a fifth set of UN Security Council sanctions resolution, China alone importing 100,000 more barrels a day than all the EU member states combined. China and Russia have little incentive to participate; they receive a high payoff by refusing to cooperate with the sanctions since Iran will have to sell more oil to them at lower prices.

The alternatives to economic sanctions aren’t particularly appealing either. The Obama Administration has expressed reservations about air strikes, which they believe would only further accelerate Iran’s underground nuclear program. Yves Bonnet argues that the locations of the development sites are so “dispersed” that “only a toppling of the Iranian regime would work”. With such low prospects for a truly unified embargo and such willing buyers outside the European Union, France’s economic sanctions may be largely ineffective. Iran has expressed a commitment to obtain nuclear arms and has not been responsive to economic and political pressures. It will take a unified international approach to effectively pressure Iran.

-Kimberly Hopewell

France Sends Foreign Graduates Back Home

French Interior Minister Claude Guéant signed a memo, last May, instituting new work permit policies for foreign students in France. This fall, the new rules have significantly reduced the number of work visas available for non-EU graduates of French schools. Immigration offices have been asked to give job priority to French and foreign national residents of France. These policies coincide with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s goal of reducing legal immigration by 20,000 this year.

French immigration lawyer, Stéphan Halimi, explains that “since the May 31st circular…(foreign students) really need to prove that there’s a lack of that kind of candidate on the French job market…”. Now, graduates of France’s top schools who cannot meet the new standards are being asked to leave the country, including those that had previously signed contracts with French companies.

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Sarkozy: Gearing Up for Elections

The upcoming French Presidential election will be a tough one for incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. François Hollande, of the Socialist Party, is leading the polls despite never having been a cabinet minister. The euro crisis appears to be a double-edged sword for the French President, heading into the election season. Some have argued that Sarkozy “is liked best by the French when he is mastering a crisis”. Hollande, meanwhile, has criticized Sarkozy for being a “facilitator” and not a “real player in financial regulation.”

The Sarkozy camp has argued that Mr. Hollande lacks the qualifications necessary to handle the current economic crisis, and has repeatedly pointed to his strong relationship with Mrs. Merkel of Germany, and their countries’ leadership in the economic crisis, as testament to his successful Presidency. The nature of that relationship, however, is suspect. It is unlikely that Sarkozy will be able to ride on the coattails of Germany in the coming election, with the New York Times referring to the couple as “Merkozy” but never “Sarkel”, because Mrs. Merkel “wears the pants” in the relationship.

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Budget Cuts to Save France’s AAA Rating

Sarkozy Speaks about the Financial Crisis

On October 17th, Moody’s warned that France was in danger of losing its triple A credit rating. The rating agency explained that French government debt is now “among the weakest" of the triple A countries. Today, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced 8 billion euros-11 billion dollars-in budget cuts, and possible tax increases. Sarkozy also said that France needs to further align itself with Germany, Europe’s largest economy. This move comes just six months prior to France’s Presidential elections. Sarkozy, who trails Socialist Francois Hollande in the polls, has not yet announced plans to run for reelection.

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