April 2009 Archives

April 27, 2009

U.S., Cuban Diplomats Hold Second Round of Talks

During the April 27, 2009, Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State, spokesman Robert Wood, Acting  Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs , took questions from reporters about U.S.-Cuba relations, among other things. U. S. and Cuban diplomats  held talks on April 27. The first meeting between Cuban diplomats and U.S. diplomats representing the Obama Administration took place on April 14, 2009. Below are questions State Department correspondents posed about Cuba:

MR. WOOD: Okay, good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. Happy Monday. I don’t have anything, so we can go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Cuba and the meeting today with the Cuban representative? And could you give a little detail on how often this happens, who initiates it, and what the purpose is?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, Bob, over the years we have had periodic contact with representatives of the Cubanimage Interests Section. And this afternoon, Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon is going to meet with the head of the Cuba Interests Section for a meeting at a mutually convenient location. I think the last time they met was April 13 here at the State Department building.

QUESTION: This year?

MR. WOOD: Yes. I believe --

QUESTION: At what level?

MR. WOOD: This was, I think, Assistant Secretary Shannon and the head of the Cuban Interests Section. And so these  meetings happen periodically, and as I said, there’s going to be one tonight.

QUESTION: Should it be seen as an effort by the Administration to expand communication with the Cubans in the – as a follow-up to the actions the President has taken?

MR. WOOD: As I said, this is one of, you know, a number of meetings that have taken place, you know, over the years with representatives of the Cuban Interests Section. So I’m not trying to make more or less of it. I’m just, you know, giving you the facts as they are.

QUESTION: So it’s not an expansion of communication as a part of a plan to --

MR. WOOD: Well, I think, the President has spoken and has, as you know, made it easier for, you know, Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba and has also taken action on remittances. So those are steps that the President has taken to further engage the Cuban people. And we will have to see what else comes in the future. But an important thing is is that we have some very serious concerns about the lack of democracy in Cuba, and we want to see steps taken to improve the situation there. But I don’t have anything more than what I’ve just outlined in terms of --

QUESTION: And just one more follow-up. Sorry. Is it still the Administration’s position that you would not take additional steps beyond those the President recently announced until the Cubans reciprocate in some form?

MR. WOOD: Well, we want to see the Cuban Government reciprocate. We’d like to see a release of political prisoners. There are host of steps that the Cuban Government can take and we’d like to see. I’m not going to put conditionality on things. But clearly, you know, there are some steps that the Cuban Government needs to do with regard to its own people, allowing the Cuban people to have some of the freedoms that are enjoyed in other countries in the hemisphere.

So, yes.

QUESTION: So are you – in this particular meeting today, are you going with a list of just – a list of things that you think they need to do before you can go further than the President went?

MR. WOOD: Well, they’re going to have a meeting. Again, as I said, representatives from the State Department have had discussions with representatives of the Cuban Interests Section before to follow up on issues. I’m sure that in the course of the conversation that Assistant Secretary Shannon has with the head of the Cuban Interests Section, they’ll touch on some of the issues of concern that we have. But I’m not going to get – there’s no list prepared that we’re going into the meeting with. We have concerns about Cuban policies. We’ll be raising them. You know, I’m sure that there will be a discussion of the President’s steps that he announced recently. But beyond that, I don’t have much of an agenda.

QUESTION: But are you looking for a more definitive explanation or response from the Cuban Government over the President’s, you know, overtures? Is that what you’re looking for?

MR. WOOD: No. I think what we’re looking for – again, our overall policy objective is to improve the political situation in Cuba for the Cuban people. And the steps the President took recently are in line with that policy: to try to promote more democracy in Cuba. And that’s going to be the nexus of our policy going forward. We’re certainly willing to engage, but there need to be reciprocal steps. And these are not – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: No, go on.

MR. WOOD: No, no.

QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.) You were just getting to the good part, so please go on.

MR. WOOD: All you want is the good part? No, you go ahead and finish.

QUESTION: On the reciprocal steps --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, what was --

QUESTION: On the reciprocal steps, what are you hoping? Are you laying out sort of a timetable of the kind of steps --

MR. WOOD: We’re not laying out a timetable or anything like that at this point. What we’d like to see are some steps to give the Cuban people some of the freedoms that are enjoyed by other peoples in the hemisphere, as I just mentioned in response to Bob’s question. So we’ll just have to see how the Cuban Government decides to respond.

QUESTION: And where are they meeting? You said it’s a mutually agreeable place or whatever? Where is it? Is this in a restaurant, a meeting --

MR. WOOD: A mutually convenient location.

QUESTION: Is it in a restaurant, under a cherry blossom tree? I mean, where is it? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: At a mutually convenient location.


QUESTION: Robert, I’m trying to get a better sense of the frequency of these meetings. You said that the last one was April 13th. I don’t think it would be fair to assume that these happen every two or three weeks. Could you give us a sense if this is – how frequently, you know, these happen, especially before this – the recent overtures from the Administration?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, they’ve happened over time. They’re more – they’re basically driven by issues and our interests. I don’t have a – you know, I can’t give you a schedule of when these meetings took place. I gave you the most recent. But they happen when we have issues that we need to raise with the Cuban Government and if, you know, the Interests Section has some issues that they need to raise with us. But there’s no pattern here. It’s when we feel it’s appropriate or they request a meeting when they happen.

QUESTION: Well, was the April 13th meeting the first one during the Obama Administration?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I can’t rule that out. I’m not sure. I mean, we have lots of --

STAFF: Yes, it was.

MR. WOOD: Oh, it was? Okay, it was the first.

QUESTION: What was the answer?

MR. WOOD: Yes, that was the first meeting during the Obama Administration with representatives of the Cuban Interests --

QUESTION: And that was requested by which side?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have those details.

QUESTION: And then do you have any sort of sense of the frequency under the previous administration?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have that.

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Rep. Barbara Lee: "’Our Current Policy Towards Cuba Just Hasn’t Worked’

“By any objective standard, our current policy toward Cuba just hasn’t worked,” writes U.S. Representative Barbara Lee of California’s Ninth Congressional District in an April 27, 2009, post at Politico. “It was clear to me when I first traveled to Cuba in the mid-1970s as a congressional staffer, and it is even clearer to me now, more than three decades later,” she asserts.

To read why, please see “U.S. and Cuba must begin new chapter.”

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April 23, 2009

Emanthi NewsBlog Offers Good Coverage on Sri Lanka

Are you interested in what goes on in Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean whose long and bloody civil war seems to be winding down in favor of the the government? If so, I recommend Sri Lanka journalist Emanthi Marambe's informative Emanthi NewsBlog. She wrote to me a few weeks ago, which prompted me to take a look at her blog.

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April 19, 2009

Peter Galbraith: President Obama Has the ‘Luxury of Being Pragmatic…’

Peter W. Galbraith, United Nations Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, offers an assessment of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy initiatives in an interview with foreign affairs columnist and global educator John C. Bersia. See “Commentary: Former ambassador Peter Galbraith on Obama's foreign policy.”

Mr. Galbraith is author of "The End of Iraq and Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies.”

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‘Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent’

Uruguayan journalist, writer and novelist Eduardo Hughes Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, which President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela gave to U.S. President Barack Obama as a gesture of friendship and a history lesson during the Summit of the Americas, is no longer obscure. According to some reports it is becoming a best seller.

Mr. Obama has been criticized in some quarters for taking the book, and for being cordial to Mr. Chavez. He told journalist April 19, 2009: "I thought it was a nice gesture to give me that book. I'm a reader."

Because of Mr. Obama’s gesture, Venezuela has decided to return its ambassador to Washington.

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April 8, 2009

Will Turkey Become a Key Player in U.S. Middle East Strategy?

Patrick Wrigley, an Istanbul based freelance journalist based in Istanbul, Turkey, Asserts in an April 8, 2009, article at Asia Times Online that, “The arrival of United States President Obama in Ankara [Turkey] on Sunday [April 5, 2009]signaled the growing importance of Turkey for US foreign-policy interests.”

“The country, which has proved something of an enigma to the US over the past five years, is now taking center stage as the potential key to unlocking the issues which will define Obama's presidency overseas, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel and Palestine,” he contends.

For more, please see “The US puts Turkey on center stage.” Also Today’s Zaman writer Abdullah Bozkurt’s news analysis headlined “Obama mesmerizes Turks with pledges, but experts caution on delivery.”

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April 7, 2009

Obama to Visit Mexico, Attend Summit of the Americas

U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Mexico April 16 and 17, 2009, for talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on a variety of issues.

Mr. Obama will leave Mexico on April 17 and fly  to Port of Spain, Trinidad, to attend the Fifth Summit of the Americas, whose theme is “Securing our Citizens' Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy, Security and Environmental Sustainability.” He will be in the Caribbean April 17-19.

Leaders from 34 nations are expected to attend the summit.

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April 6, 2009

Diplomatic Notes

“Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Kazakhstan [on April 6, 2009] for a two-day visit, his first to the Central Asian state,” reports EurAsia.Net.

Still in the Middle East: Syndicated columnist David Ignatius writes:

The Obama administration is preparing the stage for a broad theater of Middle East diplomacy stretching from the Palestinians to Syria to Iran. It's a supremely ambitious agenda, and before the curtain goes up, Obama should explore his options and risks carefully.
See “Obama should be careful in his 'broad theater' diplomacy.” Since not much has gotten done in the Middle East on a limited scale over the years, Mr. Obama may as well go for the broad stroke in Middle East diplomacy. I applaud him for it.

Agence France Presse: “US special envoy George Mitchell will return to the Middle East next week, the [U.S.] State Department said Monday [April 6, 2009], hours after President Barack Obama vowed to push forward the peace process.”

Meanwhile, on April 6, 2009, UPI reported that“U.S. diplomatic missions in Nigeria are under threat of possible terrorist attacks, embassy officials warned Monday.” See “U.S. embassy in Nigeria receives threat.” Nigeria says there is no threat.

Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Fellow for European Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman,Consulting Editor at CFR.org, said an interview posted April 6, 2009, said in response to the following question:

Barack Obama is winding up his first trip to Europe as president. How would you sum it all up? A success?

I would say it was a very good week for President Obama. The trip has gone about as well as could be expected in light of some of the discreet differences in policy perspectives that became clear in the weeks prior to his departure. The Obama administration over the course of the last couple of months since taking office downsized some of its expectations for the G-20 and the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] summits. It was guided by the judgment that it is better to get the best you can and preserve transatlantic solidarity rather than overreach and be told "no" from the Europeans and then risk the possibility of yet another round of transatlantic fracture of the sort we had during the Bush era.”

An apt response. I recommend the interview. See “'A Very Good Week' in Europe for President Obama.”

Foreign Policy in Focus senior analyst Stephen Zunes notes in an April 6, 2009, post headlined “The War on Yugoslavia, 10 Years Later”:

It has been 10 years since the U.S.-led war on Yugoslavia. For many leading Democrats, including some in top positions in the Obama administration, it was a "good" war, in contrast to the Bush administration's "bad" war on Iraq. And though the suffering and instability unleashed by the 1999 NATO military campaign wasn't as horrific as the U.S. invasion of Iraq four years later, the war was nevertheless unnecessary and illegal, and its political consequences are far from settled.

Mr. Zunes adds: “Unless there's a willingness to critically re-examine the war, the threat of another war in the name of liberal internationalism looms large.”

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April 5, 2009

Is Telling the Truth America Bashing?

Is President Barack Obama, who raised the United States’ likability quotient during his visit to the G20 and NATO summits in Europe during the past few days, “bashing” America when he acknowledges how the U.S. has behaved in the international community over the years? I think not. However, a post at Powerline headlined “Why does He Bash Us” seems to suggest otherwise.

What I hear is why does he tell us the truth?

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Sarkozy to Obama: Stay Out of the EU's Business

Doesn't U.S. President Barack Obama know that the European Union is a white, Christian club that wants to remain that way?

He's well-versed in history, so presumably he does. Yet he told the Czechs and all of Europe:

The United States and Europe must approach Muslims as our friends, neighbours and partners in fighting injustice, intolerance and violence.

“Moving forward towards Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your commitment to this agenda and ensure that we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy didn't like it one bit and let the world know. According to The Times of London, he told French television:“I have been working hand in hand with President Obama but when it comes to the European Union it is up to member states of the European Union to decide [on membership]. I have always been opposed to this entry and I remain opposed.”

The Times article on this subject, headlined "Leave Turkey's bid to join EU to us, Nicolas Sarkozy warns Barack Obama," captures the sensitivity of the issues.

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April 4, 2009

Is the U.S. Turning Afghanistan Into Iraq?

On April 03, 2009, Professor Juan Cole over at Informed Comment published “Top Ten Ways the US is Turning Afghanistan into Iraq,” which I highly recommend. His analysis of President Barack Obama’s recently released Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy and facts on the ground is far more enlightening than anything I’ve read to date on the subject.

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How Did Turkish-Israeli Relations Get Started?

How did the 60-year relationship between Turkey and Israel get started? When did it get started and why?

 Jan Felix Engelhardt, a Masters degree candidate at the School of Middle Eastern Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, whose thesis is on Turkish-Israeli relations, offers a perspective on the subject in a March 28, 2009, post at Qantara.de headlined "Sixty Years of Turkish-Israeli Relations: Partnership in the Shadow of a Threat."

I found it enlightening in the wake of Turkey’s increased role in Middle East affairs, especially its efforts to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is as old as Israel. The only way this costly affair will get settled is by third parties imposing a solution and enforcing it with the threat of force, economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

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April 3, 2009

Will Obama's Visit to Turkey Lead to Improved Relations?

Yigal Schleifer, a freelance journalist based in Istanbul, reports at EurAsia.Net that, "Turkish and American observers are hailing President Barack Obama’s upcoming three-day visit to Turkey as an important step in repairing a significant - though troubled - strategic alliance."

If you want to know more, see "Turkey: Obama Visit Sparks Hope of Reinvigorated US-Turkish Strategic Partnership."

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