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The Development, US MDG and Foreign Aid community has been waiting on Sec. Clinton’s much touted Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) for months now, and got a taste of it yesterday when a draft was made available. Easily explore it online here courtesy the Washington Post document reader.

The QDDR serves as a “scheduled review of development aid — and how to integrate it with U.S. diplomatic efforts”, in an effort to keep development projects relevant and “fresh” (WaPo, 2010)

Policy and administration folk who are keen to see increased accountability and a greater awareness of need-based/locally-owned development will be anxious to see how the final decisions regarding USAID’s operation and goals play out. We’ll keep you posted on this.

The QDDR will hopefully serve as a key map in navigating Congressional discussions on US development commitments and new spending priorities. Here at AIDemocracy, we will be monitoring this story closely, with help from our friends at MFAN and USGLC— Look for action moments from our side soon!

As the international community views all Israel settlements as illegal, Israelis moved in to 4 new villages only hours after the 10 month building moratorium was over. The political goal of the settlers is to occupy so much land that a shared state between Israel and Palestine will be impossible. What will happen to the peace talks between Israel and Palestine now is uncertain. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this Saturday that Israel now will have to choose between “peace or settlements”. Abbas now is in a tight spot, as he risks losing support with both the Palestinians and members of his own Fatah party if he continues the peace talks even though the Israelis are restarting their settlements processes. At the same time, Fatah has started a reappeasement process with Hamas, and they have appearantly agreed upon the procedures for new elections. As Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group, and so does the EU and the U.S., it might be difficult for Abbas to have a normalized relationship with Hamas, and still negotiate peace talks with Israel.

Abbas has said that the peace talks will end if Israel restarts the building of the settlements, but the Palestinian president has called a meeting with the Arab League on October 4th to discuss the situation, and review his options. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that his intentions for peace are genuine. The big issue still remains that as long as the Israelis are building settlements in the middle of the West Bank, the more unlikely will we see a two-state solution to this conflict. And even if the peace talks will be somewhat successful, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will still be in conflict with Israel, as Israel only recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization.

However, the U.S. pressure to keep the peace talks going might be the extra push to the backs of both the Palestinians and the Israelis (at least to get back on track). The U.S., in the long run, is hoping that the parties will go back to negotiate the Arabian Initiative from 2001/02 that said that if Israel will withdraw from the occupied areas, there will be a total peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. Syria is essential in this, considering that Israel still occupies the Golan Heights. Even though such an agreement may seem long ahead in the future, it is a beginning.

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced this week the date for the UK general election, the US press hardly batted an eyelid. While the US election was followed closely by many people in Britain and indeed the rest of the world, the UK election—scheduled for May 6—is unlikely to invoke the same reaction globally. Nevertheless, this election is one that may matter for Americans more than they care to imagine.

Read the rest of this entry »

              The United States has taken a big step in U.S.-Muslim relations… we hope.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed the very first State Department envoy to Muslim communities—Farah Pandith. [1]   This follows President Obama’s promising speech in Cairo, Egypt which was lauded by Muslims, Europeans, and many Americans. People continue to have high hopes in this administration’s dedication to reach out to the naitonal and worldwide Muslim communities. 

For what it’s worth, the following is my wish list for Ms. Pandith; I hope she does not let this awesome opportunity slip away.  She could do an outstanding job by doing this and more: Read the rest of this entry »

Well, contact has been made.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reported this week that senior American diplomat Richard Holbrooke met with Deputy Foreign Minister Mohamed Mehdi Akhundzadeh at a conference on the future of Afghanistan at the Hague.  The meeting was brief and unofficial.  Clinton said, “It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch.”  Clinton also noted that American officials delivered a letter to Iranian officials, asking for help in locating three Americans who have been arrested or gone missing in Iran.

There has been much discussion and analysis of how America and Iran can work together to establish and achieve common interests in Afghanistan.  Less has been said about the letter and possible cooperation in the matter of Robert Levinson, Esha Momeni, and Roxana Saberi.

Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran two years ago while he was investigating the suspected smuggling of cigarettes for a private investigative firm.  In September 2007 Iran rejected an American request to allow Swiss diplomats to travel to the island where Levinson was last seen in order to investigate and in January 2009 U.S. Senator Bill Nelson stated his belief that Levinson was being held in a secret Iranian prison.

Esha Momeni is a graduate student at California State University who was arrested in Iran on October 15th, 2008.  Pulled over for a traffic violation, Momeni’s research materials that she had collected for her thesis on the womens’ rights movement in Iran were confiscated.  She was imprisoned, subjected to solitary confinement, and interrogated before being released in in November.  However, she remains unable to leave Iran, since the government has refused to return her passport.

Roxana Saberi is an American-Iranian journalist who was arrested on January 31st, 2009 in Tehran.  After months of keeping her in prison, Iran’s judiciary finally charged her yesterday of continuing to work in Iran after her journalist credentials had expired.

The arrest and detainment of these three American citizens (if Levinson is in fact being detained) could pose a serious sticking point for the barely nascent relationship between the U.S. and Iran.  Considering that Iran has denied both that the meeting between Holbrook and Akhundzadeh occurred and the existence of the letter about Levinson, Momeni, and Saberi, we will have to wait to see the full extent of Iranian officials’ reactions.  As I have said earlier, if Iran wants to be treated as an actor in the  international system, then it is about time that it pays action to the rules of international diplomacy: including the respect for the citizens of other states.

The New York Times points out today in an editorial that Iran could be dragging its feet to pursue a relationship with the U.S. in order to win precious time for the development of its nuclear program.  The Times suggests that the Obama administration force Iran’s hand by making a major offer, such as a special interests section or a visit by Secretary Clinton, compelling Iranian officials to agree to increased interaction or to publicly refuse a generous offer.  I hope that this major offer will include discussions of the cases of Levinson, Momeni, and Saberi- it would be an important humanitarian concession on the behalf of Iran.

Guest post from Karen Jernigan:

The situation in Israel/Palestine today has become a mainstream media target.  With Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Gaza and the announcement of new U.S. policy to give $900m in Gaza reconstruction aid verses the $300m to Israel, America is watching and waiting to see how this policy shift may help to promote President Obama’s commitment to fair representation and multilateralism.

At The University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Affairs, a film screening and discussion of the American Media Foundation’s feature, “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land,” led to a debate of the current administration’s dealings with regard to the recent Gaza incursion.  It has been obvious that American media has sought to protect U.S. ally, Israel, in covering the situation from a pro-Israeli stance.  In the film, Noam Chomsky and other notable scholars and media representatives relay the issues of linguistics and choice clips that our media utilizes to capture and frame the situation in Israel/Palestine.  Here at DU, professors Nader Hashemi and Mary Morris agreed on the fact that there is not a strong Arab representation in America or in Palestine for the Palestinians.  This allows for American media to convey the situation as they have.  Additionally, this film was produced in 2004, Israel is our nation’s strongest ally, and since 2004, mainstream news networks have sought to communicate a much more fair documentation of the conflict.

The past ten days or so have been a busy period for news on the future of US-Iranian relations.  Here’s a brief summary of what’s been happening:

The New York Times reported on March 2nd that President Obama has sent a letter to Russian President Dimitry Medvedev.  This letter offered the possibility of an exchange: in return for Russia’s help in pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the United States will not continue to pursue its missile defense system in Eastern Europe.  American officials have since clarified that this letter was not offering a deal as much as it was explaining that the U.S.’s need for missile defense would be decreased by a diminished chance of a nuclear Iran.

The letter was a subject of discussion in Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, March 6th.  Russian officials are apparently open to cooperation and some have even suggested that Russia’s delayed delivery of the long-range S-300 missiles that it has sold to Iran are a gesture of goodwill toward the Obama administration.

Secretary of State Clinton has also recently suggested that Iranian officials will be invited to a conference on Afghanistan that will be taking place at the end of this month.  This would be the first face-to-face meeting of American and Iranian officials since Obama’s election.  Iran has not yet stated whether or not it will be attending the United States and Iran share many common interests in Afghanistan and there is hope that these common interests could be the starting point for a constructive dialogue.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has also offered to work to ease the tension between the U.S. and Iran.  Babacan met with Secretary Clinton on Saturday, March 7th and will be attending an Economic Cooperation Organization meeting in Tehran later this week.  Turkey will not be acting as a mediator, as it recently did for Israel and Syria, but will rather be working to promote a “better understanding” between the two countries, according to Babacan.

The Obama administration has also finally announced the appointment of Dennis Ross as “Special Advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia”, a position that will include advising on dealings with Iran.  Many, myself included, have expressed varying degrees of doubt about whether or not Ross is the right person for the job.  Omid Memarian of the Huffington Post, however, has an interesting take in the appointment.  He notes, “Clearly, the appointment of Dennis Ross has more of a domestic consumption for the administration than an actual affect on what Obama’s approach towards Iran” and observes that two other officials, William Burns and Lee Hamilton, will likely play roles any Iran policy.

The Obama administration is clearly making relations with Iran one of its top priorities.  Those hoping for a Nixon-China-style détente will probably be disappointed, but it is encouraging to see that the administration is using a variety of diplomatic methods to tackle this important issue.

The current rift between the US and Iran is argued to be based on false perceptions and speculated intentions of the other.  For the last four years, the Iranian government has chosen to pursue uranium enrichment without international inspectors overseeing its production and ensuring that it is for peaceful purposes of producing energy.  The reason for the Iranian government to refuse the IAEA to enter its nuclear facilities is where the speculation begins and political inferences and agendas are crafted.  Clearly, communication is the first step to clear the air of speculation and reconcile this highly politicized and vulnerable schism, but who will actually do something about it?

US President Barack Obama has already taken the first steps of extending an olive branch to the country very strategic for US interests.  Both on Obama’s first television interview and at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first meeting last week on the matter with the world’s major powers, the Administration made it clear that there is a shift in US policy to Iran.  Obama is willing to directly speak with Iranian officials to find a resolution to the tumultuous relationship that has escalated since 2005.

In the US, peace organizations and activists are holding Obama under the limelight to ensure he follows through with the promises of his campaign.  Not only are activists pressuring government officials and legislators to be true to their word, they have even taken the matter in their own hands and have sent several peaceful delegations to Iran to meet with Iranian citizens there.  These delegations aim to promote citizen diplomacy and build bridges over the lack of communication that have plagued the two governments for the last few years.  As a country that largely expressed its support for the victims and their families of September 11th, Iranians’ sense of humanity is remarkable despite differences between their government and foreign governments.  Acknowledging their vast amount of similarities and empathy for the American community is a first step to reconciling a relationship for which each country has been starving.

The Iranian government, specifically President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made many similar public statements of wanting to open dialogue and build this bridge of peace.  Without the pressures of being recorded, broadcasted, and having public demonstrations against his policies, I attended a meeting with Ahmadinejad last September where he repeated his sentiment for the need for open dialogue.  When we brought up the issue of permitting more Americans to visit Iran, he even concurred and pressed the Iranian officials present to address that issue.  This was a bold and reassuring step in my mind that he was willing to be proactive about the situation but I was also not going to hold my breath.

Thank God I didn’t.

I originally had plans to be on one of the citizen diplomacy delegations to Iran this past August 2008.  Unfortunately, the entire delegation’s visas were denied, which is one main reason why we confronted him with this issue in September.  I was rescheduled to go on a similar delegation this month but, alas, had my visa denied again.  I was a bit worried about this happening since not only was a US women’s badminton team had their visas denied a couple of weeks ago after being invited by Iran but also because a British organization that promote cultural and education ties have also been under scrutiny lately.  These events are contradictory to Ahmadinejad’s statements.  I can only speculate as to why the Iranian government has chosen to tighten down on foreign visas into Iran, but I am sure that it is the wrong direction for Ahmadinejad.  Barring communication and interactions between the two countries will prolong a unnerving relationship already on the rocks with false perceptions and speculations.  I can only ask for Ahmadinejad to uphold his convictions he convincingly portrayed five months ago and open the Iranian borders for others to witness the beauty of Iran and its people…the lasting effects will be priceless.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos earlier today President-Elect Barack Obma reaffirmed his belief that “Iran is going to be one of our biggest challenges” during his first year in office.  Obama went on to say that “engagement is the place to start” and that his policy would send “a signal that we respect the aspirations of the Iranian people”.  This new approach is music to the ears of those of us who have have found the stubborn silence of the Bush years to be dangerous and counterproductive.  However, recent moves by the President-Elect’s transition team have signaled that there may not be as much change as some have hoped.

The possible appointment of Dennis Ross as a special envoy to the Middle East and Iran has many activists and analysts worried.  Ross is a veteran ambassador who has served in the administrations of Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton and who has also been a key negotiator in talks between Israelis and Palestinians throughout the 1990’s.

In some ways Ross would appear to be a logical candidate for a post dealing with the Middle East in the Obama administration.  He has extensive experience in the region, as noted in an article by the Middle East Times.  He has openly critiqued the tactics of the Bush administration and he shares President-Elect Obama’s views that the US will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and that the US should engage Iran diplomatically. In a recent piece in Newsweek he wrote that strengthening unilateral and multilateral sanctions will “show Iran what it stands to lose by going nuclear” while promises of economic, political, and security benefits could “show [Iran’s] leaders what they would gain by moderating their behavior”.  These views all fall in line with the President-Elect’s stated strategy of a system of sticks and carrots.

What is concerning to many, however, is the nature of the sticks that Ross has advocated using.  Ross is one of the authors of a report by the Bipartisan Policy Center entitled Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development.  This report contains some heavy-handed suggestions about the military options available for the incoming administration.  It calls for the augmentation of the US’ military presence in the region as an overt “signal to Iranians and our regional allies” and it notes that increased troop presence would make it easier to “insert Special Forces and intelligence personnel into Iran”.

These suggestions of militaristic gesturing and covert intervention are, quite frankly, a familiar tune and not one that has produced many results over the last eight years. It seems rather contradictory that Ross could advocate for “smart statecraft” in one article and a “show of force” in another. As the confirmation hearings for Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and therefore Ross’ potential boss, begin on Tuesday, I hope that members of Congress will ask for some more clarification on Ross’ exact views on the role of military might in diplomatic engagement.

On January 20th, 2009 President Obama and his administration will be taking the reins of foreign policy, including the United States’ relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Recent appointments and statements by Obama and his transition team offer some clues as to what to expect from the next administration.

The first significant development is President-elect Obama’s announcement of his foreign policy and national security team on Monday, December 1st.  His selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is certainly interesting. During the the primary season, Senator Clinton tried to portray herself as being tougher on Iran than Obama.  She even went so far as to suggest that if Iran should “foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel”, the U.S. “would be able to totally obliterate them”.  Senator Clinton was also criticized by some Congressional Democrats for her support for a resolution labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. She has also, however, expressed support for diplomatic options, stating in 2007 that if elected President she would open a “diplomatic track” to discern “what levers of power in their society we might be able to pull and push”.

Overall, Senator Clinton’s stance toward Iran is characterized by the belief that the U.S. must “use every tool at our disposal, including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threat and use of military force”.  While I am pleased to see that our new Secretary of State is ready to use a variety of methods, including diplomacy, in dealing with Iran, it worries me that she considers the threat of violence to be an equally effective foreign policy tool.  Of course the United States must be prepared to use force to protect itself and its allies, but the militaristic threats and gesturing that have characterized the Bush administration’s approach to relations with Iran have gotten us nowhere.  I hope that as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be ready to tone down the rhetoric and use diplomatic and economic tools before resorting to threats and violence.

President-elect Obama himself has also spoken about the strategies that his administration will pursue with Iran.  Today while appearing on Meet the Press Obama articulated a carrot and stick approach that will include diplomatic engagement and the possibility of economic sanctions.  For more on Obama’s plan and the thoughts of other analysts, continue reading. Read the rest of this entry »

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