Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Holiday in the “axis of evil”

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This article by Stephen Kinzer originally appeared in GlobalPost.

YAZD, Iran —“You are American?” a surprised Iranian asked me as I sat down near him in a restaurant famous for eggplant and pomegranate stews. “How did you get a visa?”

Ever since 2002, when U.S. President George W. Bush named Iran a member of the world’s anti-American “Axis of Evil” — or perhaps since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the searing hostage crisis that followed — the idea that American tourists would visit Iran has seemed to border on the bizarre. Yet an adventurous few do come, and most find a welcome far beyond what they had imagined.

In no other country is there such an imbalance between the wealth of tourist attractions and the dearth of tourists. If Iran were a fully open country, sites like the awe-inspiring ruins at Persepolis or the dazzling mosques of Isfahan would be jammed with visitors from around the world. Instead they are all but empty, offering visitors one of the world’s richest travel experiences.

During a two-week trip through Iran in May, I ran across groups of intrepid travelers at almost every stop. All marveled at what they saw.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Could you pass bin Laden to the left please?

osamaWhatever Osama bin Laden once aspired to, it was not to be passed around the table like a bottle of port  in the British Raj nor worse, handed on quickly  in a child's game of Pass the Parcel. Yet that is the fate which for now appears to be chasing him.

For years, the default assumption has been that bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Is Baluchistan more strategically significant than Afghanistan?

gwadarBaluchistan, Pakistan's biggest province, rarely gets much attention from the international media, and what little it does is dwarfed by that showered on Afghanistan.  So it is with a certain amount of deliberate provocation that I ask the question posed in the headline: Is Baluchistan more strategically significant than Afghanistan?

Before everyone answers with a resounding "no", do pause to consider that China - renowned for its long-term planning - has invested heavily in Baluchistan, including building a deep water port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea to give it access to Gulf oil supplies.  The region is rich in gas and minerals; attracting strong international interest in spite of a low-level insurgency by Baluch separatists. 

Volcano chaos: A pointer to potential Iran/Gulf smoke disruption?

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volcanoAs if they didn’t have enough to think about, planners trying to pin down the unintended consequences of a strike on Iran may be required to reorder their lengthy worry list.

The concern? Iceland’s volcano, or rather, the vivid reminder the exploding mountain provided to governments of the importance of civil emergency planning.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Iran’s role in Afghanistan

ahmadinejadkarzaiIran has been hosting regional leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, to celebrate the Persian New Year, or Nowruz (a spring festival whose equivalent in Pakistan, incidentally, is frowned upon by its own religious conservatives).

The Nowruz celebrations, which also included the presidents of Iraq, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, are part of Iran's efforts to build regional ties and followed renewed debate over the kind of role Iran wants to play in Afghanistan. As discussed here, it has also been improving ties with Pakistan, and both countries may have worked together on the arrest last month of Abdolmalik Rigi, leader of the Jundollah rebel group.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan: winning over Tehran and Kabul

iran pakistanAccording to the Iranian foreign minister, quoted by Press TV, this week's visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad was related to plans for a trilateral summit between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The relationship between the three countries and potential influence on Afghanistan gets a lot less attention than the strained ties between India and Pakistan. But it's worth watching closely for the way it can shape the regional competition for influence in Afghanistan ahead of an expected drawdown of U.S. troops in 2011.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Kabul this week, and shortly afterwards Karzai flew to Islamabad.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Seeking Saudi cooperation on Afghanistan and Pakistan

saudiPrime Minister Manmohan Singh is making the first visit to Saudi Arabia by an Indian leader since 1982, seeking to build economic ties and to enlist the kingdom's help in improving regional security. While much of the focus is likely to be on securing oil supplies for India's growing economy, the visit is also part of the complex manoeuvres by regional players jostling for position on Afghanistan and beyond.

Singh told Saudi journalists ahead of the visit that he would discuss with Saudi King Abdullah how to promote greater stability and security in the region.  "Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people. We are strong allies against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security," he said.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a regional settlement in Afghanistan (Redux squared)

arghandabRegular readers of this blog will know we have been talking for a long time about finding a regional solution to Afghanistan. The argument -- much touted during President Barack Obama's election campaign -- was that you could stabilise the country if you persuaded the many regional players with a stake in Afghanistan -- including Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China -- to cooperate rather than compete in finding a political settlement to what was effectively an unwinnable war.

The argument looked at best utopian, at worst a description of the delicate balance of power in the early 20th century that was meant to keep the peace but in reality led to the outbreak of World War One.  It is now resurfacing again as public opinion in western countries -- including in staunch U.S. ally Britain -- turns against the long war in Afghanistan.

Did I hear ‘freedom fries’? – France says Iran is no Iraq

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- French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud briefs reporters at the United Nations in New York. UN photo

French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud briefs reporters at the United Nations in New York. UN photo

February 2003. Anti-French sentiment sweeps across the United States. President George W. Bush and his top aides can barely contain their irritation at the French government for undermining U.S.-led efforts to get the U.N. Security Council to authorize the impending invasion of Iraq. With the aid of Germany and Russia, France torpedoes the drive for a new resolution authorizing war. Frustration erupts into anger. Bottles of French wine and champagne are emptied into toilets and some restaurants rename French fries “freedom fries.”

Does Siemens’ move send a message on Iran sanctions?

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nuclearWhen it comes to further sanctions on Iran, the clock is ticking relentlessly, even if those leading the drive – the United States, Britain, Germany and France — are giving little away in terms of timing or what might be targeted under any new, U.N.-agreed package.

Still, companies that do business with Iran appear to be getting the message that time is running out.

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