Tag Archive: Persian Gulf


http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20110423/wl_time/08599206696000

By ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER / CAIRO Abigail Hauslohner / Cairo Sat Apr 23, 1:15 am ET

Reports of a thaw in Egyptian-Iranian diplomatic ties has created a stir in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and its neighbor, Israel. Indeed, even as Egypt struggles to iron out its own emerging political system after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, Cairo’s foreign policy is also undergoing a sea change. “If you look at Egypt over the last 20 years, it just hasn’t played a very serious role in the foreign affairs of the region,” says Gary Sick a Persian Gulf expert at Columbia University, who served on the National Security Council under three U.S. presidents. For decades, in fact, the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak acted as little more than a “foreign policy cardboard standup” to its powerful ally and benefactor, the United States. But all that is about to change, he says. “Many of the countries that now have new leaders are going to reset their foreign affairs,” Sick predicts. “And the United States is going to have to get used to that.”

For post-revolutionary Egypt’s new leaders and politicians, forging a new foreign policy means pushing back against much of what Mubarak stood for. That clearly includes Egypt’s perceived puppet-like status to the United States, Europe, and Israel. “Let us eat the way we want, dress the way we want. Let us organize ourselves the way we want to,” says Kamal Habib, a Salafi politician, who was jailed for a decade under Mubarak for his affiliation with a violent jihadist organization. “We don’t want to repeat the Mubarak-American relationship again.” (See pictures of the mass demonstrations in Egypt.)

Habib’s opinion applies to more than just his Salafist cohorts. Many Egyptians want to hit the reset button on their country’s stance on Palestinian statehood, as well as its posture toward the Gaza Strip, where it has helped to enforce an Israeli-led blockade for four years. Most recently, it also includes re-thinking a decades-old enmity with Iran.

Earlier this month, Egypt’s new Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi called for a normalization of relations between the two countries. Tehran and Cairo cut off diplomatic ties following the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, both of which occured in 1979. Earlier this week, reports filtered out that Iran had appointed an ambassador to Cairo, sparking a flurry of speculation on the future of the relationship. Both countries later denied that the step had been taken. But Egyptian state media reported that Iran’s foreign minister has been invited to visit Cairo. And on Thursday Iran’s state-run Press TV announced that Iranian tourism agencies had signed a deal with Egypt to facilitate tourism between the two countries.

For western policy-makers and the Israeli government, the newfound warmth has set off alarm bells. At the very least, they say, it’s not a positive sign for the countries seeking to isolate Iran in an effort to halt its suspected work to build nuclear weapons.

See TIME’s most influential people of 2011.

See TIME’s exclusive photos in “Uprising in Cairo.”

But it may not be a such bad sign either – at least as far as the U.S., Europe, and other countries in the Middle East are concerned. Other Arab states that have normalized relations with Iran, like Qatar and Oman, have proven useful intermediaries at times between the rogue republic and its western adversaries. In tandem with Brazil, Turkey, the largest non-Arab Muslim nation in the area, independently negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran when Western efforts at coercion failed. (The agreement did not stick because Western officials declared that it did not meet conditions set by the U.N.) But, while Turkey’s success may have proven embarrassing to U.S. leadership because Washington wasn’t responsible for the deal, Sick says, “the opportunity to actually have a valuable interlocutor between the United States and Iran, I know from personal experience, was immensely useful.”

Whether Egypt aims to become an interlocutor is unclear, and perhaps even unlikely at this point. It is more likely that Egypt’s leaders want to set an agenda that’s independent from the U.S. and Europe. And just because Egypt is trying to regain some of the regional prominence that it enjoyed in the 1950s and 60s when it was a vocal leader of pan-Arab nationalism, doesn’t mean it’s going to be Iran’s new best friend either. “The new Middle East may end up being defined as it was in the past by that triangle of ancient states – Egypt, Turkey and Iran,” says Sick. “And I don’t think that they will necessarily become allies of each other. Rather they’re more likely to be rivals on many different issues.” (See TIME’s complete coverage in “The Middle East in Revolt.”)

One of those issues is a lingering suspicion of Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy and Tehran’s ambitions to “export” its Islamic revolution. Most of the region is dominated by Sunni Muslims; and religious conservatives sometimes view the Shi’a brand of Islam practiced by Iran’s majority as heretical. The rise of a Shi’ite government in Iraq has put other Arab states on edge, and an Egypt friendly to Iran is likely to come under a lot of pressure from some of its Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia. Regional analysts also say that Arabs have a tendency to exaggerate fears of Iranian influence. “The really active days of exporting the revolution ended in about 1982,” says Sick. But psychologically, it may still represent a sizable obstacle to normalization of Egyptian-Iranian relations.

At the same time, it’s worth considering who’s really in power in post-Mubarak Egypt. Egypt’s revolutionaries may indeed start flexing their foreign policy muscles against Mubarak’s legacy, but the generals who are temporarily in control of the country may have little interest in bending back the old policies. Mubarak’s number two man, the intensely anti-Iran intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has been removed from power. But in his place is Mourad Mwafi, the former head of Egyptian military intelligence, and the governor of North Sinai who held a hard-line on Gaza and Iran-backed Hamas. “I don’t know what his politics are, but I think he has a very healthy and realistic sense of the threats that Egypt still faces,” says one Western diplomat in Cairo. “I think he is highly skeptical of Iranian intentions – not only the nuclear stuff, but Hamas and Hezbollah and other malign influences in the region. So I think they haven’t lost their antennae on these issues.”

Indeed, Iran may be eager for a new ally in an international community where it remains highly unpopular. Ambassadors may even be exchanged. But Egypt is likely to proceed with caution. At the end of the day, the Western official adds, Egypt’s stance on Iran may not be so threatening after all: “There is no intention at this point, I’m told, to immediately move toward changing the nature of the relationship. It’s not there yet. I think the security services still have some concerns.”

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Gates: Some US troops may stay if Iraq wants

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_gates_iraq

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer Robert Burns, Ap National Security Writer Thu Apr 7, 6:33 am ET

BAGHDAD – The Obama administration would keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the agreed final withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, if the Iraqi government wanted them, but the Iraqis need to decide “pretty quickly” in order for the Pentagon to accommodate the extension, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday during what he said probably is his final visit to this war-torn country.

Whether to negotiate an extended U.S. military presence is up to the Iraqis, he said, adding that he thought an extension might make sense.

“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” he said, not only in Afghanistan and Libya but also in Japan, where he said 19 U.S. Navy ships and about 18,000 U.S. military personnel are assisting in earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor relief efforts.

“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top American commander in Iraq, said the country is lacking important security capabilities. Those include the defense of its air space and the wherewithal to supply and maintain its own forces, he said.

Asked in an interview whether all Iraqi government officials are aware of these gaps, he replied, “Some more than others.”

He said the government’s inability thus far to appoint a defense minister and an interior minister has hampered its ability to make informed decisions about whether to ask the Americans to stay longer.

Speaking to a group of reporters traveling with Gates, Austin gave the strong impression that he thinks Iraq needs a U.S. military presence beyond December, but he said he had not yet been asked to provide a recommendation to Washington.

He said Iraq faced the possibility of a “more violent environment” next year, given the absence of U.S. military force and the failure to resolve key political problems, like the Kurd-Arab tensions in Kirkuk and elsewhere in the north.

The U.S. now has about 47,000 troops in Iraq, and they will begin leaving in large numbers in late summer or early fall. The U.S. led an invasion in March 2003 that toppled the government of President Saddam Hussein a month later, but an insurgency soon set in and the U.S. got mired in a conflict that has lasted far longer — and cost far more American and Iraqi lives — than Washington had anticipated.

Gates also said civil unrest in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, with majority Shiite Muslims pushing for an end to rule by the minority Sunnis, has created tensions in Iraq, whose Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is concerned about Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiites.

Gates said he expected to discuss this subject with al-Maliki in private meetings later Thursday.

Meghan O’Sullivan, a top Iraq adviser to President George W. Bush from 2005-07, said in an email exchange that al-Maliki faces enormous domestic political pressures on several fronts, including a small but vocal number of Iraqis demanding better government, and a security situation that is improved but still tense.

Together, these pressures make it unlikely that al-Maliki feels he can publicly invite the U.S. military to stay beyond this year.

“Understandably, the Obama administration was hoping for this sort of invitation, and likely feels struck, given that it is not forthcoming,” O’Sullivan said. “They can’t be seen wanting to keep more troops in Iraq than the Iraqis do.” O’Sullivan is now a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School.

Under blue skies and a bright sun at a U.S. base just outside the Iraqi capital, Gates told a group of soldiers that he worries that a potential shutdown of the U.S. federal government will delay issuance of their paychecks. He assured them that they eventually would get full pay, but there could be a delay if Democrats and Republicans in Washington are unable to reach a budget deal this week.

“When I start to think of the inconvenience that it’s going to cause these kids (soldiers) and a lot of their families, even a half paycheck delayed can be a problem for them,” Gates told reporters after fielding several questions from the assembled soldiers. The first question posed to him was by a soldier asking about the ramifications for military members and their families of the budget crisis back home.

Gates assured them, “You will be paid,” then added that it might take a while, depending on the length of the political impasse in Washington.

In a brief exchange with reporters during a photo session with Gates earlier Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, James Jeffrey, said U.S. ground forces are “the glue” that is holding the country together. He said this leaves a mixed picture of the situation in Iraq because making arrangements to keep U.S. troops here beyond December is going to be difficult.

In his troop talk, Gates raised the matter of his impending retirement, recalling for soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, that his first visit to Iraq was in September 2006, three months before he replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. He recalled that on a visit to Baghdad in December 2006 he conducted a press conference while a gun battle was echoing in the distance.

In all, he estimated he has made 14 visits to Iraq.

“`This will probably be my last one,” he said.

Gates previously has said he intends to retire this year, but he has not been more specific about the timing. It is widely anticipated that he is planning to quit this summer.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110302/ts_yblog_thelookout/u-s-contemplates-military-options-as-libyan-unrest-continues

Muammar Gaddafi vowed to hang on to power in a speech Wednesday–and regime forces are reported to have made territorial gains, raising the prospect of a civil war in Libya. The United States is under increasing pressure to consider forceful action to avert a bloodbath in the country, from imposing a no-fly zone to setting up humanitarian corridors to protect civilians.

But Defense Secretary Bob Gates made clear Tuesday that, with 150,000 U.S. forces already deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and unrest simmering from Algeria to Yemen, he’s reluctant to commit U.S. military forces elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the United States ordered the deployment this week of two Navy vessels, including the amphibious assault ship the Kearsarge, and 400 U.S. Marines toward Libya from the Persian Gulf.

“We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East,” Gates told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.

“If we move additional assets, what are the consequences of that for Afghanistan, for the Persian Gulf?” Gates said. “And what other allies are prepared to work with us in some of these things?”

Top U.S. military brass also warned Congress Tuesday that imposing a NATO no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from air attack by Gaddafi’s forces would be a far more complex endeavor than many appreciate. It would require first taking out Libya’s air defenses.

“So no illusions here,” CENTCOM Commander Gen. Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It would be a military operation. It wouldn’t be just telling people not to fly airplanes.”

The latest Middle East crisis poses a key dilemma for the Obama administration, pitting humanitarian concerns against broader Middle East strategic considerations. The involvement of U.S. military forces even in an internationally led operation intended to avert atrocities against Libyan civilians could give a sharp anti-American cast to the anti-government unrest in the Middle East. But even as military advisers urge restraint, some in Congress and key humanitarian and pro-democracy advocates are urging the Obama administration to take more forceful measures to avert possible bloodshed.

Middle East experts note the Obama administration has already taken a number of steps in close consultation with international allies. Among these are the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Libya on Saturday, the opening of an International Criminal Court investigation of Libyan war crimes, freezing $30 billion in Libyan assets in the United States on Sunday–and the symbolic measure voting Libya off the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

“I think a no-fly zone, targeted sanctions, and referral to [the International Criminal Court] are all realistic and appropriate,” said George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, who has consulted with the White House several times over the past month on both Egypt and Libya. “It’s extremely important to send a signal not just to Gaddafi but to all the other dictators in the region and world who might be tempted to use brutal violence against their people to stay in power that it’s not actually going to keep them in power.”

Experts said at this stage, the movement of U.S. naval power towards Libya was more about messaging than action–persuading Gaddafi loyalists that his downfall is imminent.

“They are sure hoping they don’t have to use them and that this thing will be over, everyone keeps hoping, before they have to take more drastic and costly measures,” said the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Michele Dunne, a former State Department and NSC official who has also been in frequent consultation with the White House.

Former State Department Middle East official Joel Rubin, now with the progressive National Security Network, says the real question for the United States is defining an end goal.

“On the practical level, defining the goal is essential,” Rubin said. “If we have learned anything from our recent experience of military adventures in the Arab world, it is that we have to have a clear and compelling goal that is achievable. And in the case of Libya, there are two goals … the first is humanitarian protection, and the second is removing Gaddafi.” Rubin said that a no-fly zone is the option that analysts are discussing most frequently on the humanitarian front.

But Rubin said even a no-fly zone will not be a panacea. “At this point, Gaddafi is strong because he has guns and money. By deploying a no fly zone … you attempt to reduce his guns, and by utilizing sanctions and asset freezes, you attempt to take away his money. Once those are both gone, yes he is beatable,” Rubin said. “But there’s no single magic bullet. There’s no shock and awe.”

(The United States amphibious assault ship USS Ponce sails through the Suez Canal at Ismailia , Egypt, Wednesday, March 2, 2011.: AP Photo)

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