Archive for May, 2009

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Who Will Lead the Tamils Now?

May 27, 2009
A young Tamil Malaysian holds a poster of Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran during a demonstration outside Batu Caves temple near Kuala Lumpur May 24, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad (MALAYSIA POLITICS CONFLICT)

A young Tamil Malaysian holds a poster of Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran during a demonstration outside Batu Caves temple near Kuala Lumpur May 24, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad (MALAYSIA POLITICS CONFLICT)

The Tamil Tigers acknowledged Sunday that their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had been killed in the last few days of fighting as the Sri Lankan army crushed the last remnants of the L.T.T.E.

Originally, the Tamil website TamilNet reported that “the L.T.T.E. leadership is safe, and it will re-emerge when the right time comes.” However, overseas spokesman for the L.T.T.E Selvarasa Pathmanathan quietly admitted on TamilNet Sunday that Prabhakaran had been killed in the fighting.

Despite the arguable conclusion of the war, the Sri Lankan government has only emitted nebulous promises to the Tamil minority. Can the Sri Lankan government be trusted to grant the Tamils enough minority rights? If they fail to adequately provide genuine support and rights to the Tamils, the Sri Lankan government risks spawning another rebel movement.

Importantly, the Tamils appear to be leaderless. TamilNet has restricted itself to calls for international inquiry into the bombing of civilians after announcing the death of Prabhakaran, refraining from breaching the subject of who will next lead the Tigers.

There are members of the Tamil National Alliance, a pro-Tamil political party holding 23 seats in Sri Lanka’s Parliament, yet the Tamils have yet to rally around any of them. The spokesman for the Tamils who admitted Prabhakaran’s death is not in Sri Lanka, but elsewhere abroad.

If the tools of democracy are to prevent another violent civil war, as Sri Lanka hopes, then both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils would benefit from genuine minority rights, negotiations, and representation in government. If no one can rally and speak for the Tamils, the outcome will remain amorphous.

-Chris Hildebrand

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Geithner plans trip to China

May 27, 2009
U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, left, meets with China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan for a bilateral meeting following the G-20 Leaders Summit, in London, Thursday, April 2, 2009. U.S. President Barack Obama and China's President Hu Jintao have announced that Secretary Geithner and Vice Premier Wang will lead the economic track of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue for the their respective countries. (AP Photo/Akira Suemori)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, left, meets with China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan for a bilateral meeting following the G-20 Leaders Summit, in London, Thursday, April 2, 2009. U.S. President Barack Obama and China's President Hu Jintao have announced that Secretary Geithner and Vice Premier Wang will lead the economic track of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue for the their respective countries. (AP Photo/Akira Suemori)

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will visit China starting the end of this week until the first part of June according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. Treasury Department states the two sides will discuss “strengthening U.S.-China economic ties to promote stable, balanced and sustained economic growth in the two nations.”  No details of the trip have been given thus far, but analysts have proffered ideas of what will actually be discussed.

The US suspicion that China is manipulating its currency for trade gains ranks highest amongst these ideas.  US lawmakers have long accused Beijing of keeping the yuan, or renminbi, artificially low — a step that would boost its exports by making Chinese products less expensive relative to US goods on global markets.

However, other analysts suspect Geithner will assuage Chinese concerns about recent US financial policy aimed at combating the current recession. China, who is the largest holder of US bonds, harbors fears that the monetary and fiscal policies enacted by the US will drive down the value of dollar based assets.

The latest report on US trade showed that the deficit with China, the second largest US partner, jumped to 15.6 billion dollars in March from 14.2 billion one month earlier.

-Daniel Smart

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“Camp Peace” hopes to capitalize on relations with the UAE

May 26, 2009
United Arab Emirates' Crown Prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, center, are seen on the tarmac at the al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi during a show of four twin-engined Rafale fighter jets manufactured by France's Dassault Aviation in Abu Dhabi, Tuesday, May 26, 2009. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler Pool)

United Arab Emirates' Crown Prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, center, are seen on the tarmac at the al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi during a show of four twin-engined Rafale fighter jets manufactured by France's Dassault Aviation in Abu Dhabi, Tuesday, May 26, 2009. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler Pool)

French President Nikolas Sarkozy today officially opened “Camp Peace,” a French military base in the United Arab Emirates, sparking harsh criticism from the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

The Iranian spokesman blasted the move, claiming the facility will only heighten tensions in the region, and that it is an excuse for the French to enhance their arms sales to Middle Eastern customers.

The new base, however, France’s first on foreign soil in over 50 years, is symptomatic of a hardened French attitude towards Iran. Camp Peace, only 137 miles from the Iranian coast, will open more options for French influence and diplomacy in the region. The French hope this will allow them to connect with Middle Eastern states that are also seeking to temper Iran.

France might have other motivations for opening the base, however. The presence of a permanent French facility in the area will allow further arms sales in the region, including a rumored contract for French Rafale fighter jets that have yet to sell on the international stage.

Additionally, France is looking to sign a deal to construct two nuclear power plants in the UAE, a crucial energy deal that has the potential to herald large rewards for both parties. Neither deal is certain and France will face stiff competition from U.S. interests in the region. The U.S. has a large base for its 5th Fleet in neighboring Bahrain.

While the French can’t hope to wield U.S. levels of influence in the region, the opening of Camp Peace does move beyond traditional French actions in the Gulf. Sarkozy, in his remarks at the base opening, said “France, through this base […] is ready to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure stability in the region.”

-Chris Hildebrand

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The Guardian Council, what is it guarding?

May 21, 2009
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, and Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, center, who heads Iran's Guardian Council, attend a ceremony in Tehran, Iran.  (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian,File)

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, and Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, center, who heads Iran's Guardian Council, attend a ceremony in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian,File)

Iran is currently in the full swing of its presidential race with elections occurring in June.  Because of the Guardian Council, elections in Iran do not consist of the events and processes that have become second nature to us.

The Guardian Council consists of six conservative theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. This body has become the upper house of parliament.

Before a candidate runs for office or a piece of legislation turns into law, it must receive approval from this council.  If the council decides that an issue is contrary to the constitution or Islamic law, they have the power to veto it.

During the elections of 2005 over 1000 individuals began the race for the presidency with only six receiving the council’s approval to continue.  The group rejected 471 candidates who wanted to run in the election occurring in June, including illiterate peasants, a 12-year-old boy and 42 women.   Only three men gained authorization to run against the current leader of Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Many reformists have tried to lessen the power of the council, but to no avail.  The ultra conservative nature of the council disallows change and reform.  As long as the council has the amount of influence it currently does, change in Iran will be difficult, if not impossible.

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Nigerian Unrest results in Rising Oil Prices and Blame on Multinational Companies

May 20, 2009
Fighters with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) raise their riffles to celebrate news of a successful operation by their colleagues against the Nigerian army in the Niger Delta on September 17, 2008. MEND has declared a full-scale "oil war" against the Nigerian authorities in response to attacks by the Nigerian military launched against the militants. "Our target is to crumble the oil installations in order to force the government to a round table to solve the problem once and for all", said Boy Loaf, leader of the militants. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Fighters with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) raise their riffles to celebrate news of a successful operation by their colleagues against the Nigerian army in the Niger Delta on September 17, 2008. MEND has declared a full-scale "oil war" against the Nigerian authorities in response to attacks by the Nigerian military launched against the militants. "Our target is to crumble the oil installations in order to force the government to a round table to solve the problem once and for all", said Boy Loaf, leader of the militants. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Oil prices are on the rise once again reaching $61 per barrel today. Americans often link these price fluctuations to US relations in the Middle East, yet there is another major contributor driving these costs.

In 2008, Nigerian crude oil production averaged 1.94 million barrels per day, making it the largest crude oil producer in Africa.

Strong conflict between militants and the armed forces in the Southern section of Nigeria known as the Delta State have erupted.  The Joint Task Force (JTF), a combination of more than one military service, yesterday intensified its attacks on perceived militants’ camps in Delta State.

When the time came to place blame for the current conflicts the Nigerian House of Representatives claimed yesterday that the multinational corporations had done nothing for their host communities in the last 50 years.

Chairman Abdul Ningi rhetorically asked: “Who gives ammunition to these militants, who gives oil to them? Have they built roads and schools? They are part of the cartel aggravating these crises. Nigeria is not the only country where oil is produced. We have Saudi Arabia and other countries, but why is the Nigerian situation so different?

“It is for people like you to find out what these multinational companies claimed to have spent in the region in terms of investment. Who buys oil from the high seas? Who knows how to sell oil to the militants and buy ammunition for them, is it not the multinationals?”

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A Solution to the U.S.’s Central Asian Base Woes

May 17, 2009

When Kyrgyzstan announced in February that it would force the closure of a United States air base on its territory, worries surfaced that the U.S. would face difficulties in transporting personnel and supplies to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, it seems that the U.S. has found a way to avoid major supply problems, as revelations surface that a base in Uzbekistan is already serving as a transport hub for NATO supplies bound for Afghanistan.

With South Korea serving as a face-saving intermediary, NATO non-lethal supplies are currently being transported to Afghanistan through a cargo airport in the Uzbek city of Navoi, said Uzbek President Islam Karimov on May 11. All this is slightly surprising, since the Uzbeks forced the Americans out of an airbase on their territory in 2005, after U.S. criticisms of the Uzbek president.

South Korea is now involved in a large-scale project to renovate the Navoi airport and turn it into a major air cargo hub. Upon completion, the facility could handle up to 300 tons of cargo per day. South Korean contractors a re working on upgrading the airport’s infrastructure, and Korean Air manages the facility, but it is unclear what entity is handling the actual flight logistics. Though the deal is, at this point, strictly between Uzbek and South Korean entities, evidence exists that an American document dating to late 2008 actually laid out the parameters for the agreement.

South Korea’s involvement seems to be a way to mask the indirect involvement of American forces and interests. It also saves face for the Uzbek regime, which cannot now be easily accused of caving to U.S. demands. This will also make it slightly easier for the Uzbeks to deny to Russia that they are aiding American interests. After Russia forced Kyrgyzstan to close the American airbase at Manas with promises of $1.7 billion to help complete Kyrgyz hydropower projects fiercely opposed by Uzbekistan, Uzbek willingness to bend to Russia’s will seems to have declined.

The new Uzbek openness towards an American presence, however masked it may be at the moment, could signal a marked decrease in Russia’s influence in at least this Central Asian country. The indirectness of U.S. involvement in the project also leaves Russia with little grounds for complaint. The deal has led to nominal increase of the U.S. presence in Central Asia, and aids the supply of materials to fight the Taliban, both trends that Russia supports. For now, at least, it seems the U.S. has found a viable alternative to the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan.

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Week in Review

May 9, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI Begins Trip to Middle East

Jordan's king Abdullah(R) welcomes Pope Benedict XVI (L) upon his arrival at Queen Alia International airport in Amman May 8, 2009. Pope Benedict arrives in Amman on Friday on a tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that will test his diplomatic skills. REUTERS PICTURES

Jordan's king Abdullah(R) welcomes Pope Benedict XVI (L) upon his arrival at Queen Alia International airport in Amman May 8, 2009. Pope Benedict arrives in Amman on Friday on a tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that will test his diplomatic skills. REUTERS PICTURES

The Pope began his Middle East trip in Jordan on Friday. He will continue on to Israel and the Palestinian territories before returning to the Vatican. During the trip, the Pope will encourage peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as mend his relations with Jews and Muslims. Click for article.

Moscow Expels two Canadian Diplomats, Insists Relations with NATO Remain Positive

The Canadian ambassador Ralph Lysyshyn enters Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Russia will expel two Canadian diplomats in retaliation for NATO's recent expulsion of two Russian envoys from the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, the Canadian Embassy in Moscow said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
The Canadian ambassador Ralph Lysyshyn enters Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow Wednesday, May 6, 2009.  (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Russia expelled two NATO diplomats in retaliation for NATO’s expulsion of two Russian diplomats accused of espionage. The move comes at a delicate time for relations between the Alliance and Russia, which have just reesumed talks suspended during the war in Georgia last summer. The Russian foreign Minister, however, insisted that the expulsions were just following the rules of diplomatic protocol, and said that Russia wants a “normal” relationship with NATO.  Click here for article.

Czech Senate Approves EU Lisbon Treaty
Czech senators vote on May 6, 2009 at the Czech Senate in Prague. GETTY IMAGES

Czech senators vote on May 6, 2009 at the Czech Senate in Prague. GETTY.

 The Czech Republic’s Senate approved ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which would reform the structure of the European Union. The treaty now awaits the signature of president Klaus, who has been a vocal critic of its provisions, and has said he will not sign unless Ireland ratifies the treaty. Click here for article.

Residents of Pakistan’s Swat Valley Flee as Government Plans Assault

Photo: Rashid Iqbal/European Pressphoto Agency

Photo: Rashid Iqbal/European Pressphoto Agency

Pakistan seems poised to launch a major assault to dislodge the Taliban from the Swat Valley, an area it recently all but ceded to Taliban control. The Pakistani military is reportedly more confident now that public opinion has shifted against the Taliban. Click here for article.
Swine Flu Fears Subside in Mexico
Volunteer mothers clean books in an elementary school classroom, still closed as a precaution against swine flu, in Mexico City, Friday, May 8, 2009. Elementary school parents joined school workers Friday in a massive effort to clean up the city's schools before students return May 11 for their first day of school since the swine flu epidemic began. AP

Volunteer mothers clean books in an elementary school classroom, still closed as a precaution against swine flu, in Mexico City, Friday, May 8, 2009. Elementary school parents joined school workers Friday in a massive effort to clean up the city's schools before students return May 11 for their first day of school since the swine flu epidemic began. AP

After almost two weeks of worry and disruption, fears of swine flu becoming an epidemic appear to have subsided in Mexico. Schools are scheduled to reopen soon, restaurants are now allowed to seat customers, and Mexicans are throwing away their facemasks. The Mexican government now faces calls for inquiries into its handling of the outbreak. Click here for article.