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Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran is ready to resume talks with the West regarding its nuclear program. He stated however, that any negotiations will fail if the West does not clearly come out against Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal. He made it clear that there will be no achievements whatsoever if the West does not change its policy towards Israel, Iran’s archrival. The West, especially the U.S., will have to make great sacrifices in its foreign relations with Israel in order to meet Iran’s demands, which is something that is highly unlikely to happen. It may appear that Iran is using Israel’s suspected nuclear program in a way to move tensions away from its own.

EU foreign affairs and security Chief Catherine Ashton has suggested the talks to be held in Vienna in November with the P5+1 Countries (the U.S., the U.K., China, France and Russia plus Germany) while U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was up to Iran to set a date. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has signaled that October or November seems like a suitable time for talks with P5 + 1.

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About two weeks ago Julia and I attended the US Global Leadership Council’s annual conference. The day was filled with brilliant speakers, but in the end we both agreed that one of our favorites was Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Working shop. He discussed “Muppet Diplomacy”, the idea that through educational television we can develop nations and encourage a more positive relationship between the U.S. and other nations. As Julia mentioned in an earlier post, this was a refreshing viewpoint on a panel that mostly focused on the direct impact of development on business’ pockets (not so surprising since it was a panel on development’s economic impacts).

Sesame Workshop was founded thirty-eight years ago to help low income children in the U.S. prepare for school. The concept was simple: use television to address the developmental needs of children. Since then, the Sesame Street model has gone global. Sesame Workshop works with 18 countries (Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt ,France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia, South Africa ) on locally produced media following the Sesame model. Each production team involves the top educators, researchers, psychologists, child development experts, artists, writers and musicians in their respective countries. Today Sesame Street if the most researched show in history.

What is most interesting about this process is how local productions are using the Sesame model to talk about regionally relevant issues. Rechov Sumsum, the production in Israel features Arab-Israeli and Jewish- Israeli muppets living together in harmony. Alam Simsim, Egypt’s production features a bright young female muppet, Khokha, to promote the empowerment and education of young girls.

South Africa’s Takalani Sesame embodies the spirit of the “rainbow nation” and features muppets that speak with accents that reflect the diversity of the nation. Most notable is Kami, a young female muppet who is HIV positive. As South Africa continues to be devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the show is attempting to dispel the culture of silence and stigma surrounding the issue.

The name “Kami” comes from the Setswana word “Kamodelo” which means “acceptance.” Kami is a Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Hi all, I’m Erick Ford, the AIDemocracy Southeast Regional Coordinator at George Mason University.  Last Friday – March 26th 2010 – over 100 members of the George Mason University community welcomed Former UN Ambassador Ahmad Kamal of Pakistan to the Fairfax campus for a discussion about building sustainable peace and security for future generations.

This was the second year in a row that Ambassador Kamal made the trip to George Mason. The forum was hosted by GMU’s Global Relations Organization, Americans for an Informed Democracy, the Public and International Affairs Department, Global Affairs Department, and the Office of the Provost, with support from the Student Government President Devraj Dasgupta.  The purpose of the forum was to bring the leaders of tomorrow an opportunity to ask and learn directly from today’s global leaders.

Ambassador Kamal spoke on various subjects including the Middle East peace process, Iran, nuclear proliferation, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Russia, US debt, the WTO, global concentration of wealth, welfare states, access to water, and the role of the US and the UN in maintaining global peace and security.

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With the December 6 news that it plans to build twenty new uranium enrichment facilities, Iran has dealt a serious blow to hopes of peacefully resolving its nuclear standoff with the West. After months of courtship by the international community, Iran’s announcement appears to be both a rejection of the West’s advances and a signal of its intent to step up its pursuit of a nuclear program. With the US running out of cards to play, many fear that the two countries are on a collision course to military confrontation.

Much like North Korea, the consequences of an Iranian possession of nuclear bomb are dire. The Obama administration has sought to right the wrong of American Cold War policy, when the US provided its then-ally Iran with nuclear reactors in an attempt to curry favor. Preventing proliferation is a priority for the Obama administration and confirmation that Iran has a nuclear bomb would trigger an arms race in the Middle East, with heavyweights such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking to counter Iranian domination in the region. An Iranian nuclear bomb would also bring Israel and Iran closer to war. Iran’s anti-Semitic leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicised his hatred of Israel so often that Israeli leaders deem a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat. Just last year an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites was narrowly averted after George W. Bush refused to give Ehud Olmert the green light. The Obama administration has since tried to convince the Israelis of the virtues of diplomacy with Iran, but the latest setback means that hawks in Israel and the US will be circling Iran with greater intensity.

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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.

Not long after graduate school, I traveled from sunny California to Washington, DC and got a job with an organization that did advocacy around a whole range of social justice issues.  It was perfect: full of passion and drive, I got to work with people who had a mission and were making a real difference in the world.  One humid summer afternoon, as we gathered materials for a protest, one of my coworkers picked up a pin that had War Is Not the Answer emblazoned on it in red, white and blue.  He laughed: they’d been saying that since Vietnam.  Well, at least they could recycle the pins.

This week students will graduate from universities all over the country and enter what we call the real world.  They will flock to Washington and Los Angeles and New York and take jobs and internships and work long hours for pennies at least in part because they want to make the world a better place.

And unless I’m wrong, they will find it exhilarating, just like I did.  What an extraordinary thing it is to work for a cause you believe in, to be so close to power, and to know that, though there are awful things going on in the world, there are things we can do to change them.

This is part of the reality graduates face: that together we can change the world.  The other part, which begins to surface several months into your first job, is that, often, we can’t.   There are significant limits to what we can do.

This reality hit me hard.  As a student, I had studied the Middle East; the injustices and ravages of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made me righteous with anger, and though it was decades old, I was certain that doing something now was possible.  So I did what many do: I went to rallies and forums, I signed petitions and read books and had exhausting conversations in coffee shops.  I was part of the collective effort to impel our government to do more to contribute to a just solution.  And as a result of our efforts the conflict continued.  Now, I hadn’t really expected it to end, but I was hugely demoralized at how little our efforts accomplished.

Every young person will eventually face this: the colossal disappointment of ineffectiveness.  It happens all the time.  We demand that our leaders intervene in Darfur, but they have not intervened, at least not the extent that we need them to. We urge them to address global warming, but they equivocate and delay.

Where do we go from here?  The answer is certainly not resignation.  Time is the most precious thing we have–because it is the most irrevocable–and it should not be wasted doing nothing.  But how will the next generation shape this perplexing, messy world?

We can start by changing the way we think about change.  While we work for grand, front-page, trumpets blaring causes, change is usually incremental and subversive, the stuff of back-page news. Rich countries agree to purchase vaccines for pneumococcal disease, which will save millions of lives in the developing world.  Israeli settlers agree to transfer Gaza Strip greenhouses to the Palestinian Authority, preserving 2,700 Palestinian jobs. Change does happen and there is much to be glad about.  And you don’t have to sacrifice big dreams to think so.  The key is to chip away, everyday, at injustice and hunger and war and homelessness, and to celebrate small victories without ever becoming entirely satisfied. After all, it is our own future that is at stake.

We can also tell the truth.  It’s easy to spout partial truths like that genocide is bad and we must do something because it is right. But the whole truth must ask why our country intervenes in some places and not in others.  The whole truth acknowledges that sometimes our solutions to particular problems have negative effects on other problems.  And since so much of what we do has a fundamentally moral basis, the whole truth acknowledges that though we may believe there are moral costs of inaction, sometimes there is no obvious political cost.

This next crop of grads should reject clichés, acknowledge the legitimacy of doubt, and speak to the ambiguous heart of things.  If we don’t our causes risk becoming sentimental, fragile and irrelevant.

Submitted by Lindsay Morgan, Center for Global Development

Every day, more articles indicate that war with Iran is not far off. The thought that this might be true makes me feel physically sick.

Here is the rough draft of an editorial I wrote for Washington Square News. It’s a piece I should have written a long time ago.

An Attack On Iran Would Be A Tragedy For Its Democrats
by Una Hardester

An attack on Iran, by the United States or Israel, would be a disaster for the entire Middle East, but most of all for Iran’s pro-democracy forces. If Iran was attacked, all hope of peaceful democratic change would be destroyed for the foreseeable future, and the tremendous risks and sacrifices of thousands of students, human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, academics, and other members of Iran’s besieged but courageous civil society would be rendered worthless. This can’t be allowed to happen.

More than seventy percent of Iranians are under age thirty. These young Iranians desire greater freedom, and a society free of the kind of violence the ruling hard-line theocrats inflict on them, but they do not, in any way at all, want regime change to come through outside military action. This is not to say they themselves are not willing to take action.

University students have stood up to riot police and heavily-armed militia to protest the closure of newspapers, and the arrests of student leaders for political activities. Hundreds of students have gone to jail in recent years. No one knows exactly how many have been executed. Most have been tortured, some to death. Tehran’s Evin Prison is infamous for its cruel treatment of political prisoners. This past summer, a young man by the name of Akbar Mohammadi, a former student pro-democracy activist, died in his cell, gagged and chained to a bed in his final hours. Mohammadi never advocated military regime-change. He believed peaceful change would bring about a better Iran.

This belief is shared by Iran’s surviving pro-democracy activists, including Akbar Ganji, a journalist who has become, along with Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, one of the most internationally recognizable faces of Iran’s pro-democracy movement. Ganji spent six years in Evin prison for writing articles that linked senior regime members to the murders of prominent dissidents. After he was released in 2006, Ganji went abroad to speak about human rights and the pro-democracy movement in Iran. When he visited the United States, he was invited to the White House. Ganji declined the invitation. Worried by the United States’ increasingly hawkish rhetoric against Iran, Ganji said, “You cannot bring democracy to a country by attacking it.” President Bush should ponder those words carefully. Though great personal suffering was inflicted on him by the Iranian regime, Ganji still believes that change must come from within the Iranian population, even if that means more slowly than Israel and the West desire. We may curse its incrementalism, but this is how organic democracy emerges.
But what about the bomb? If Iran’s current government develops nuclear weapons, it will kick off an arms race in the region, and threaten the security —even existence—of Israel, the worried pro-attack voices say.

To them, I say; things are not as dire as they seem; you must keep a cool head. The apocalyptic threats from Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are just the blathering of a crude populist who, contrary to portrayal in American media, is a figure-head, not an autocrat. Even if the Iranian regime creates a handful of crude nuclear weapons in the next few years, it is unlikely in the extreme that it will use them against Israel. It is equally unlikely to hand them off to terrorists (another doomsday scenario bandied about lately), knowing that this would result in retaliation as surely as a direct attack would. More probably, Iran would use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip in the cynical game of international politics. This is the purpose of nuclear weapons today.

Unfortunately, this means Israel would have to live with a nuclear Iran, something its leaders have said they will never allow. But Israel would not have to live with this threat forever. The Iranian regime consists of individuals who have been in power since the revolution of 1979. They are aging and paranoid, and, above all else, concerned with staying in power as long as they possibly can. They understand that they are surrounded by a vast sea of youth that is idealistic, reformist, and pro-democracy, and sheer demographics ensure that their days are numbered.

The bulk of today’s young Iranians were born shortly after the revolution their parents took part in, and they have grown up with its consequences; the Iran-Iraq War, international isolation, and intense repression, but, despite efforts to the contrary by those in power, they have not grown up with an abiding hatred for the United States or the West. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not their president because they voted for him. He is their president because they did not vote at all. After turning out in massive numbers to elect a reformist in 1997, Iran’s young people then spent eight years being bitterly disappointed, and many boycotted the latest, highly unfair presidential election.

The United States and Israel must recognize this, and not buy into Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. He does not speak for Iran. Iran’s young people lack access to international forums, to mass media, and to sympathetic ears in the West, and their voices are not heard. This is not just a shame, it’s dangerous. It allows elites who would like to see Iran’s nuclear sites destroyed, and its government deposed by military means, to paint the entire Iranian population as genocidal, anti-Semitic, fundamentalists bent on ushering in a new age of nuclear war —in other word’s, a people deserving of whatever they get. We must reject this notion.

Iran is a country of contradictions and appalling injustices. The gap between the policies and opinions of its rulers and the beliefs of its people is yawning. If the West wants a democratic and non-nuclear Iran, it will have to wait, and not intervene to stop Iran’s nuclear production process. Even Western governments funding opposition groups won’t help; it will simply give credence to the regime’s claim that dissidents are tools of the United States. The best thing for Iran’s people is for Western governments —in fact, all governments— to stay out the regime-change process altogether.
The Iranian regime will fall, but it will fall at the hands of the Iranian people, who genuinely desire solidarity and moral support from the outside. They do not hate us, but they are terrified that, in our state of frenzied fear, we may ruin all they have fought so hard for. For Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi, for the countless students who have spoken out and been killed for doing so, and for all those who continue the fight for freedom, democracy, and human rights under one of the world’s most repressive regimes, Americans and Israelis must raise their voices in loud opposition to an attack against Iran.

Many of my friends went to the anti-war protest in Washington this past Saturday. Looking at their photos on facebook, I couldn’t help but think to myself how bitterly we’ll look back on these times if another war begins while we’re waking up to the bloody reality of this one.

I am genuinely frightened that there seems ot be a hopeless and resigned consensus among policy-makers, scholars, and journalists that war with Iran is not far off, and is a forgone conclusion. Israel will attack, or the United States will. One way or another, Iran’s nuclear facilities will be destroyed. The consequences will be catastrophic in terms of loss of civilian lives and environmental damage, but these will be viewed as acceptable prices to pay for disarming a nuclear or soon-to-be nuclear Iran.

But not everyone is ready to accept that. In an article titled "Europeans Fear US Attack on Iran as Nuclear Row Intensifies" an unnamed European diplomat describes the mood in Europe’s halls of power.

"There’s anxiety
everywhere you turn," said a diplomat familiar with the work of the
International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "The Europeans are very
concerned the shit could hit the fan."

And with good reason.

A
US navy battle group of seven vessels was steaming towards the Gulf
yesterday from the Red Sea, part of a deployment of 50 US ships,
including two aircraft carriers, expected in the area in weeks.

Knowing this, and probably understanding how little it can do at this late stage, the EU is making crystal clear that an attack will not be met with European approval.

"No
path is envisaged by the EU other than the UN path," the EU’s foreign
policy chief, Javier Solana, told the Guardian yesterday. "The priority
for all of us is that Iran complies with UN security council
resolutions."

On the possibility of Israel taking military action by itself, two well known Israeli foreign affairs writers wrote in a recent New Republic piece:

If
Israel is forced, by default, to strike, it is likely to happen within
the next 18 months.
An attack needs to take place before the nuclear
facilities become radioactive; waiting too long could result in massive
civilian casualties.
Still, Israel will almost certainly wait until it
becomes clear that sanctions have failed and that the United States or
NATO won’t strike. The toughest decision, then, will be timing:
determining that delicate moment when it becomes clear that the
international community has failed but before the facilities turn
lethal.

Israel will alert Washington before a strike: "We won’t surprise the
Americans, given the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against American
troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East," says an analyst close
to the intelligence community. U.S. permission will be needed if Israel
chooses to send its planes over Iraqi air space — and the expectation
here is that permission would be granted. (Israel has two other
possible attack routes, both problematic: over Turkish air space and
along the Saudi-Iraqi border to the Persian Gulf.) Still, according to
the former air force commander, if Israel decides to act, "We will act
alone, not as emissaries of anyone else."

All of this fills me with despair. The best thing for Iran now would be for its religious leaders to remove Ahmadinejad from power and fully comply with the IAEA and the UN Security Council, but the chances of that happening are not good –despite Iran’s current internal political turmoil. So, if Iran pushes ahead, it appears war will soon follow. The pro-democracy movement in the country (its greatest hope currently) will be destroyed, and the danger of a regional war in the Middle East (and all the chain reaction problems it would create) will be more real than ever before.

I can’t shake the feeling of doom closing in. I think of the brave Iranian pro-democracy and human rights activists who have been beaten, jailed, tortured, and executed in the most gruesome ways over the past decade, and I think of how all their sacrifices and suffering could come to nothing.

I don’t see any hope in this, anywhere.

The past week has been filled with disturbing news from the Middle East. In a time of great hopelessness, what a relief to open my inbox to read the message below. It comes from two youth activists in the region, one Palestinian and one Israeli, who are working to create a better future for their people.  Saed Bilbeisi and Elad Dunayevsky are young leaders with OneVoice, a grassroots, non-partisan Israeli-Palestinian group that empowers moderates to stand up against extremism and seize back the agenda for conflict resolution. At a time when extremists are once again dominating the agenda, its need to exist and to deliver could not be more crucial.

Here’s what they write:

“There are rockets flying into Israel’s Northern towns as far down as Haifa as we write this, while the people of Gaza are in fear for their homes and lives, without electricity and running water. People are suffering, people are dying and people are afraid. It’s a crisis. We are writing to tell you though not to give up on us, or to give up on hope for an end to the conflict.

The situation today makes it very difficult to talk about conflict resolution – to see an end to the conflict. Sometimes it is easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel, at the moment the tunnel is dark. But this crisis and this conflict will end, and we say that with sobriety and rationality. As much as we feel helpless today, as rational people we must see any crisis as an opportunity to rise up and overcome the reasons that brought that crisis.

The situation will come to an end, when we do not know. In the meantime both people suffer so badly. Believe us that no-one is happy with this life. We want everyone around the world to know that we, and many friends and colleagues like us at OneVoice, are working to change this situation. We are ready. We are ready to do anything necessary to help end this situation. We have done so many activities and introduced so many people to OneVoice and it always gives them hope and energy. We can not and will not lose all of this however hard it is at this moment. We will strive to improve this life.

A resolution to the conflict may seem like a dream, but let us dream it and keep helping us do whatever we have to do to make it a reality. The day will never come when Israelis and Palestinians are prepared to accept living with this situation. How far we are from the day when we have a situation we will accept is hard to say, but we will work for it, even as the fighter jets and rockets go overhead, we will work for it.”

For more information about OneVoice, visit www.onevoicemovement.org or contact Jake Hayman.

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