Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Briefly: U.S.' Iraq policy, anti-Americanism in Turkey, Georgia and U.S., Armenia’s nuclear neighborhood, Russia’s new PM

First published in the September 15, 2007 Armenian Reporter

From Washington, in brief
by Emil Sanamyan

Bush Administration resists calls for withdrawal from Iraq

Speaking in Congress this week, the U.S. commander in Iraq made the Bush Administration’s case for maintaining the American military presence in the country at about the current level, at least until next summer. Democratic leaders continued to call for a substantial withdrawal sooner rather than later.

On September 10 and 11, Gen. David Petraeus pointed to some progress made in establishing security in central Iraq since the U.S. began its “surge” earlier this year to the current troop level of over 160,000. But the pressure has been building from both Democrats and Republicans to begin to pull troops out of the increasingly unpopular conflict in Iraq, particularly ahead of November 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

The war launched by the United States in March 2003 and the subsequent insurgency and civil war in Iraq have so far resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. and coalition military personnel, and well over 70,000 Iraqi civilians, displacing about two million more.

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 55 percent of Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq by early 2008. Gen. Petraeus could only see up to 30,000 U.S. personnel possibly withdrawn by summer of 2008 – something that would reverse this year’s “surge,” but would also almost certainly leave the Iraq conflict for the next American president to sort out.

A small Armenian contingent is set to remain in Iraq until the end of 2007, when the Armenian government may seek another extension for the deployment. It is based near the town of Al Kut, in the same area near the Iraq-Iran border where the U.S. is planning to build a large military based, according to the September 10 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Poll: Anti-American sentiments in Turkey not limited to U.S. government

Turks continue to have some of the strongest anti-American sentiments in the world, according to a study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project conducted earlier this year. The findings, circulated by on September 5, show that more than 83 percent of Turks hold an unfavorable view of the United States, and 77 percent dislike Americans.

The Pew study also confirmed findings of a Bilgi University study (see this column in the June 16 Armenian Reporter ) according to which Turks view the United States, their country’s longtime NATO ally, as the greatest threat to their security; 64 percent in the Pew study said the U.S. was a threat to Turkey, and 35 percent in the Bilgi study said the U.S. posed the biggest threat (more than any other source).

Commentators see the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq as the main reason for the increase in anti-American attitudes. Turks are particularly unhappy with the strengthening of a de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq and simultaneous intensification of insurgent attacks in majority Kurdish southeastern Turkey. The intermittent clashes so far this year are believed to have killed 300 Kurds and about 100 Turkish security forces, the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation reported on September 5.

Turkish dislikes of America are spilling into apolitical spheres as well. Thus, 81 percent “dislike American ideas about democracy,” 83 percent dislike “American ways of doing business,” 68 percent dislike “American music, movies and television,” and up to 51 percent say they do not admire the United States for its “technological and scientific advances.”

Georgian foreign minister works to retain U.S. support

The U.S. secretaries of state and defense offered continued support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration (also known as NATO membership), the Georgian Foreign Ministry reported on September 11, after Minister Gela Bezhuashvili met with Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates.

Mr. Bezhuashvili told the Associated Press that Georgia hopes for a formal invitation to join the alliance in April 2008. “This is the highest priority of our foreign policy,” he told AP.

The U.S. supports Georgia’s membership, but it is unclear whether the country would be able to win unanimous backing from alliance members wary of expansion and Georgia’s volatility (see this column in the September 8 Armenian Reporter).

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington on September 10, Mr. Bezhuashvili sought to play down continued tensions with Russia and said Georgia would respond “moderately” to future “provocations.” He also argued that Georgia’s increased military spending was needed to fund its armed forces’ reform and missions abroad – particularly in Iraq, where it is in the process of increasing its presence to 2,000 service members.

Mr. Bezhuashvili’s talk focused on improvements in Georgia’s business climate, noting the growth in foreign investments from $400 million in 2005 to $1.5 billion in 2006, which he said had resulted from reduced corruption and increased transparency.

Asked by the Armenian Reporter why the investors who last month secured the rights to manage Georgia’s railroad (see this column in August 25 Armenian Reporter ) have not been named, Mr. Bezhuashvili claimed that he was not familiar with the deal since he had been traveling for weeks.

A Georgian business tycoon, Badri Patarkatsishvili, denied media speculation that he had taken control of the railroad in exchange for his TV holding, reported on September 10. Mr. Patarkatsishvili recently relocated to London after he claimed his Imedi television station came under pressure from the Georgian government.

The Georgian Messenger daily reported on September 7 that the railroad’s formal owner, the Britishregistered Parkfield Investments, was a shell company backed by two other offshore groups registered respectively in the Bahamas and Cyprus.

Armenia’s neighbors are also interested in nuclear energy

According to preliminary estimates, a new nuclear power plant will take four-and-a-half years to build and cost $2 billion, Armenian news agencies cited Energy Minister Armen Movsisian as telling the National Assembly on September 7. A project feasibility study, currently being developed together with Russia, the U.S., and the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA), is to be ready by next year, Mr. Movsisian said.

Despite the steep price tag, Mr. Movsisian said that “only a new nuclear plant can become an alternative for the existing power plant” at Metsamor, which is slated to be decommissioned in the next decade, reported.

He added that due to the efforts of the Armenian government, key international players “now realize that Armenia must have an atomic power plant.” In addition to Iran’s widely publicized nuclear efforts, Armenia’s three other neighbors are also looking to benefit from nuclear technology. The Turkish government still plans to have nuclear energy by 2020, although construction plans for a plant were scrapped during the economic crisis in 2000.

Last month, the Georgian government established a state commission headed by its energy minister to look into the possibility of constructing a nuclear reactor in Georgia, Prime News reported on August 16 (also see this column in
the June 23 Armenian Reporter ). And on August 24, the Azeri Trend news agency reported that, with help from IAEA, the Azerbaijani government is planning to begin building a nuclear reactor near Baku in 2009. Azerbaijan is reportedly looking to build a nuclear power plant later this century, when its oil and gas resources are expected to run out.

Around the world, there are 31 nuclear reactors now under construction, with 439 reactors currently working, the Economist reported on September 8. In the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to receive a total of 27 applications in 2007–8 for building new nuclear reactors.

Russian President appoints new Prime Minister

With just six months left before the Russian presidential elections, President Vladimir Putin replaced his prime minister on September 12, international news agencies reported. But instead of naming his likely successor to the post, Mr. Putin appointed a largely unknown bureaucrat, Viktor Zubkov, to take over from another political lightweight, Mikhail Fradkov.

After more than seven years in office, Mr. Putin remains popular in Russia, but he will not stand in elections when his second term runs out in March 2008. Speculations have focused on three influential deputy Prime ministers – Sergei Ivanov, Sergei Naryshkin, and Dmitri Medvedev – as his most likely successors.

On the day of the reshuffle, Vedomosti, a leading Russian business daily, cited a source close to the Kremlin as saying that Mr. Ivanov would be named prime minister. But instead Mr. Zubkov – a 66-year-old, longtime colleague of Mr. Putin, who until now had headed a state committee combating money laundering – was appointed.

Most Russia watchers have ruled out Mr. Zubkov as a potential successor, and still see Mr. Ivanov as the most likely next president of Russia.

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