I've just produced a new podcast that's likely to be of interest to those who follow the work of our Middle East North Africa programme and the Middle East peace process in particular: an interview with James Rodgers, who was the BBC's Gaza correspondent during the time of the second Intifada. He's just written a book that draws on his experiences there, emphasising the impact of the politics of the region on people's lives, and the role played by faith and religion.
This ties in with Nick Witney's conclusions in his paper, "Europe and the vanishing two state solution", where one of his arguments concerns the need to normalise the economy of the Palestinian territories, which at the moment are overly dependent upon aid.
Have a listen, read Nick's report, and read James' book. All are interesting!
Late last month, the electoral campaign for the 11th Iranian presidential elections scheduled for 14 June officially began, opening the floor to the competing candidates to promote their views in TV debates, in an attempt to gain the Supreme Leader and the voters' endorsement.
The Council of Guardians – a 12-member body charged with overseeing the compatibility of presidential hopefuls with constitutional criteria – concluded its vetting process on 21 May, saying that just eight out of 686 candidates can run. In view of the eight men's profiles, it seems likely the candidates’ standpoint on the nuclear issue and on Iran's strategic posture toward the West might be the main issue in the vote in June. Three of them have been involved – in different degrees and under different administrations – with the nuclear dossier and have held negotiations with the E3+3 (Britain, France,
A seat at the table of the Asia security summit, more commonly called the Shangri-La Dialogue, allows one to watch the strategic dance that is being played on the public stage of the meeting, and more discreetly in the hallways. Over the years, the Shangri-La has become the main venue for defence ministers and other high officials from Asia-Pacific countries – with an increasing participation of European, and particularly British and French, officials. But it is a peculiar exercise, where these officials also compete with each other on stage, with a limited but real range of questions addressed at each of them: not all defence ministers excel at this Q&A game.
This year, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a life-long politician, won the game easily. Shirking black suit and matching tie for a sports jacket, joking about his own limited expertise, he painted a picture of the DoD
Vlad Filat, until recently the Liberal Democrat Prime Minister of Moldova, is locked in a power battle with Vladimir Plahotniuc, the country’s one and only oligarch. This war of attrition threatens the Eastern Partnership’s ‘success story’ narrative, and with it Moldova’s reform project.
Not every policy detail may have been perfect in Moldova since 2009, but at least the narrative seemed right. Eastern Europe’s only ruling Communist Party fell from government. The changeover was mythologised as the ‘Twitter Revolution’ – a precursor of the ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Moscow Winter’ - although in fact it was a prosaic process of elections and parliamentary arithmetic. The Communists were replaced by the smooth-sounding ‘Alliance for European Integration’, which was soon getting rave reviews for its reform efforts from the EU. Tiny Moldova leapfrogged the other five states in the ‘Eastern
Yesterday’s focus on the arms embargo issue at the European Foreign Minister’s meeting was something of a red herring. Despite the decision to drop the embargo, there are no plans to consider arming for at least two months, while any eventual arming will be extremely limited and subject to export license and other restrictions that apply to conflict situations. Any weapons flow will also be severely constrained by domestic political caution driven by fears of potential blowback. Given that the impact of such arming will therefore be relatively minor, the meeting was akin to a very public discussion of how best to bluff a weak hand in a poker match – not a good idea.
The West is, quite simply, ill-equipped to win a proxy arming race if its support for rebels prompts Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to increase their military backing of the regime. And that is exactly what has happened.
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