Is a US-Iran deal on the Middle East possible?

Would a negotiated agreement between Iran and the Barack Obama administration be feasible if Obama sent the right signals? The answer one gets from Iranian officials and think-tank analysts is, “Yes, but … ”

The Iranian national security establishment has long salivated over the prospect of an agreement with Washington. But there’s a big difference between Iranian and US ideas of what such an accord would look like.

Washington is fixated on what it would take to get Iran to agree to stop enriching uranium. On the other hand, Iranians interviewed here indicate that an agreement would only be possible if it represented a fundamental change in the US-Iran relationship.

Iranian officials and analysts see the problem of US-Iranian relations as a seamless web of issues on which agreement must be reached as a whole. And in addition to the bilateral issues of normal diplomatic and economic relations, they see a new US-Iranian understanding on the Middle East
as essential. [continued…]

Somalia on the edge

As the fight against Somali piracy intensifies, warships from Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Britain, Malaysia and the United States, may soon be joined by naval forces from China. A Chinese merchant ship became the fourth vessel to be attacked in two days.

“The crew of the China Communications Construction Co. ship fought pirates for five hours before coalition helicopters chased them off, Noel Choong, head of the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau, said by phone today. He said a Turkish cargo ship, a Malaysian tug, and a yacht were seized off Somalia yesterday, the same day the United Nations Security Council backed military action against piracy,” Bloomberg reported.

Naval operations have thus far been of limited success since the asymetry between a warship and a fibreglass skiff is one that counts to the pirates’ advantage. As an Italian naval officer told The New York Times, “going after them in a 485-foot-long destroyer, bristling with surface-to-air missiles and torpedoes, was like ‘going after someone on a bicycle with a truck.’ [continued…]

35 Iraq officials held in raids on key ministry

Up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been arrested over the past three days with some of them accused of quietly working to reconstitute Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, according to senior security officials in Baghdad.

The arrests, confirmed by officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security as well as the prime minister’s office, included four generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. [continued…]

Report says Iraq may ban Blackwater

The State Department’s inspector general has warned in a new report that Blackwater Worldwide, the security contractor, may not be licensed by the Iraqi government to continue to protect American diplomats in Baghdad next year, forcing the Obama administration to make new security arrangements. [continued…]

The torture report

Most Americans have long known that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not the work of a few low-ranking sociopaths. All but President Bush’s most unquestioning supporters recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse, torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence services.

Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

The report shows how actions by these men “led directly” to what happened at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons. [continued…]

“Leaked Obama transcript” explains Rick Warren decision

The following conversation may, or may not, have occurred between President-elect Barack Obama and the chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, US Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA):

BARACK OBAMA: So who we gonna have do the invocation at my inaugural?

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Oh my God, you’re gonna love this, B.

BO: Okay Di, hit me.

DIFI: Ready? Rick. Warren.

BO: You mean conservative evangelical Christian leader Rick Warren?

DIFI: Yup.

BO: Rick Warren who wants to ban all abortions and basically said that I support a holocaust?

DIFI: Uh huh.

BO: The guy who compared gay marriage to pedophilia and incest, and helped lead the fight for Prop 8 in California?

DIFI: That’s him.

BO: The man who said he agrees on everything with far-right nut James Dobson.

DIFI: Yesiree.

BO: But Di, the guy has devoted his entire life to destroying everything I stand for, everything I believe in, everyone who worked so hard and so long to put me into office.

DIFI: I know, isn’t it brilliant!

BO: I don’t get it.

DIFI: Okay, think about it. You’re so post-partisan that you’re willing to embrace and promote someone who loathes you, didn’t vote for you, and will do everything in his power to destroy your presidency. It’s like the Lieberman thing, but even bigger!

BO: So you mean, by promoting a guy who represents none of my goals, ideals or hopes that the majority of the country voted for, and by devastating my own supporters on what was supposed to be a day of celebration and national rebirth, I’m actually promoting “change” by publicly undermining it?

DIFI: Exactly!

BO: But won’t I be screwing the gays, women, and pretty much everyone else who got me elected?

DIFI: Never stopped me.

BO: But doesn’t this make me no better than the guy I’m replacing or the guy I just beat?

DIFI: Never stopped me. [continued…]

Russia, testing U.S. sway, offers Lebanon 10 warplanes

Lebanon’s defense minister announced in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia had offered to give the country 10 MIG-29 fighter jets that would significantly upgrade its antiquated air force and serve as a slap to the United States.

The United States is Lebanon’s main military partner, but American plans to help rebuild the country’s army and air force are moving slowly. And Russia, which is increasingly challenging the United States in regions where American influence has been paramount, has made other gestures toward reasserting itself in the Mediterranean.

Lebanon’s military had no official comment on the offer. It is far from clear whether the jets would be delivered. The deal would depend on the Lebanese government’s approval and would have to be discussed with the country’s allies, said a former Lebanese military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic sensitivities. [continued…]

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