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from FaithWorld:

U.S. to resume formal Muslim Brotherhood contacts, official says

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(The skyline of Washington DCl, May 22, 2009/Larry Downing)

The United States has decided to resume formal contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a senior U.S. official said, in a step that reflects the Islamist group's growing political weight but that is almost certain to upset Israel and its U.S. backers.  "The political landscape in Egypt has changed, and is changing," said the senior official, who spokeon Wednesday on condition of anonymity. "It is in our interests to engage with all of the parties that are competing for parliament or the presidency."

The official sought to portray the shift as a subtle evolution rather than a dramatic change in Washington's stance toward the Brotherhood, a group founded in 1928 that seeks to promote its conservative vision of Islam in society. Under the previous policy, U.S. diplomats were allowed to deal with Brotherhood members of parliament who had won seats as independents -- a diplomatic fiction that allowed them to keep lines of communication open.

Where U.S. diplomats previously dealt only with group members in their role as parliamentarians, a policy the official said had been in place since 2006, they will now deal directly with low-level Brotherhood party officials.

There is no U.S. legal prohibition against dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which long ago renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt and which is not regarded by Washington as a foreign terrorist organization. But other sympathetic groups, such as Hamas, which identifies the Brotherhood as its spiritual guide, have not disavowed violence against the state of Israel.

from Afghan Journal:

Karzai, the West and the diplomatic marriage from hell

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karzai and O

One of my Kabul press corps colleagues once described covering President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Western diplomats who are supposed to be supporting it as a lot like being friends with a couple while they go through a savage divorce. We reporters hop back and forth, from cocktail party to quiet lunch to private briefing, listening to charming Afghans and Westerners -– many of whom we personally like very much -- say outrageously nasty things about each other. Usually, the invective is whispered “off the record” by both sides, so you, dear reader, miss out on the opportunity to learn just how dysfunctional one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships has become.

Over the past few weeks, the secret got out. Karzai -- in a speech that was described as an outburst but which palace insiders say was carefully planned -- said in public what his allies have been muttering in private for months: that Western diplomats orchestrated the notorious election debacle last year that saw a third of his votes thrown out for fraud. The White House and State Department were apoplectic: “disturbing”, “untrue”, “preposterous” they called it. Peter Galbraith, the U.S. diplomat who was the number two U.N. official in Kabul during last year’s election, went on TV and said he thought Karzai might be crazy or on drugs. Karzai’s camp’s response: Who’s being preposterous now?

from Tales from the Trail:

Off hours, Diplomat families teach swimming in Baghdad, Battle of the Bulge

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If you wondered what U.S. diplomats and their families do in their spare time in the exotic, less exotic and sometimes really difficult places where they live, here's a partial answer.

They volunteer in their communities.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented awards Tuesday recognizing half a dozen American foreign service workers or their family members for outstanding volunteer work abroad.

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