Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Obama, Islam, Turkey, Jews, Eurogas, etc.

This was first published in January 31, 2009 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama seeks dialogue with Iran, Muslim world

"As I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us," President Barack Obama said in his first White House interview, granted to Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television on January 27.

In response, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would "welcome" a change in U.S. policy. But, as BBC News reported, that statement came after the Iranian president, who is facing re-election this June, issued a tirade of grievances against the United States.

Earlier, in an unusual gesture, Mr. Ahmadinejad sent a letter congratulating Mr. Obama on his election. The White House is reported to be currently drafting a letter to Iran. According to the Daily Telegraph "diplomatic drafts [of the letter] give assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, but merely seek a change in its behavior."

In the interview this week, Mr. Obama stressed the importance of dialogue. "It [is] important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress," he said.

By contrast, the former president, George W. Bush, refused to talk to Iran and pushed for tougher sanctions over Iran's enrichment of uranium.

In October 2007, both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney issued dire warnings. Mr. Cheney said that the United States "will not allow" Iran to have a nuclear weapon, while Mr. Bush spoke of possible "World War III" should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon.

But in December 2007, a U.S. intelligence assessment determined that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Although members of the U.S. and Israeli political establishments disagreed with the assessment, the Bush Administration began to tone down its Iran rhetoric.

Notwithstanding the Obama administration's emphasis on dialogue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted recently that a military option remains on the table. In her January 13 Senate testimony, she said the new administration was "not taking any option off the table at all . . . to try to prevent" Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

(As a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton had threatened to "obliterate" Iran if it used nuclear weapons against Israel and had criticized her ultimately victorious rival's readiness to talk to Iran without preconditions.)

Mr. Obama, while reiterating the importance of Israel's security to the United States, said he wanted to convince the Muslims "that Americans are not your enemy."

Among steps designed to reach that goal, the Obama Administration is closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center, making preparations for pulling out of Iraq, and pledging a renewed focus on settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the wake of Israel's devastating attack on Gaza.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell will be visiting Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The Turkish media noted that the visit will be the first high-level U.S.-Turkish contact since the new president's inauguration.

Separately, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to the president inviting to him to attend the summit dubbed the Alliance of Civilizations planned for April 6-7 in Istanbul.

That initiative was first launched by Turkey and Spain under the United Nations umbrella in 2007. Its first forum in January 2008 did not include U.S. officials.

World optimistic about Obama presidency

A majority of more than 17,000 respondents queried in 17 countries around the world believe that their nations will enjoy better ties with the United States under President Barack Obama, according to a BBC World Service study released on January 20.

Fifty-one percent of Turks and 47 percent of Russians - groups that have in recent years been especially suspicious of U.S. intentions - were optimistic about positive change under President Obama.

Respondents were also asked about what they thought should be the top priority of the new U.S. administration, with most identifying "dealing with global financial crisis." See www.worldpublicopinion.org.

Jewish Americans “gravely distressed” with Turkey

Leaders of five Jewish-American organizations expressed profound concern over what they described as "the current wave of anti-Semitic manifestations in Turkey."

In a January 21 letter addressed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and made available to the Armenian Reporter, the letter's co-signers said their "Jewish friends in Turkey feel besieged and threatened" and called on Turkey to address "these disturbing developments."

They also disagreed with Turkey's harsh criticism of Israel's recent campaign in Gaza.

Mr. Erdogan called the Israeli operation a "crime against humanity" and an "evil" deed and went so far as to suggest that Israel should be barred from the United Nations. There have been numerous public demonstrations in Turkey in solidarity with Gaza.

On January 29, Mr. Erdogan joined Israel's President Shimon Peres at the Global Economic Forum in Switzerland and accused Israel of "barbarism" in Gaza, BBC News reported. The Turkish premier left the panel after the moderator, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, tried to cut off his microphone.

"We're not convinced that Turkey has earned the right to lecture Israelis about human rights," the Jerusalem Post had written in an editorial on January 5, citing Turkey's decades-long campaign against Kurdish rebels that has left tens of thousands of people dead.

The five co-signers of the letter are senior executives from the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), B'nai B'rith International, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

The organizations have in the past supported Turkey's agenda in Washington, including opposition to congressional resolutions on the Armenian Genocide. But following recent exchanges, Turkish daily Milliyet cited Jewish-American leaders as saying they are not inclined do so any more.

U.S. study: China, India, Russia to dominate headlines in next decade

U.S. global influence will diminish and that of China and India will increase in the next decade and half, according to a study prepared by the National Intelligence Council, an in-house think tank of the U.S. intelligence community.

Predictions made in the report, "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World," released last November, see the world moving away from post-Cold War dominance by the United States to what political scientists have described as a multipolar or nonpolar world.

The report also underscores importance of Russia and Iran as major exporters of fossil energy, particularly natural gas, and in case of Russia also coal.

While none of the Caucasus states was mentioned individually, the Caucasus region was mentioned four times (three times as a source of conflicts and once as an energy corridor) and Caspian energy was mentioned twice.

Below is a table showing the number of times sixteen select countries are mentioned in the report, along with size of their economies.

Country Number of mentions 2007 GDP (in bn. USD)

China 190 3280

India 138 1100

Russia 138 1290

Iran 84 285

Japan 57 4381

Pakistan 25 144

Afghanistan 22 10

Iraq 20 55

Korea (N. & S.) 20 1000+

Israel 15 164

Turkey 15 659

Saudi Arabia 8 382

United Kingdom 6 2804

Germany 6 3320

France 4 2594

Ukraine 4 142

See report at http://www.dni.gov/nic/PDF_2025/2025_Global_Trends_Final_Report.pdf

European Union promises funding for Russia gas bypass

The European Commission has proposed $330 million in initial funding for what is known as the Nabucco gas pipeline. The proposal unveiled at a European Union (EU) conference held in Hungary on January 28 would need member-states' approval to go ahead. It comes shortly after the Russian-Ukrainian spat over gas supplies that left several Balkan countries without heating earlier this month.

In theory, the Nabucco pipeline would bring natural gas from Central Asia to Turkey and then on to Europe, substantially eroding Russia's current dominance in Europe's natural gas market. (The pipeline's unusual name is short for Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who according to the Old Testament freed the Jews and rebuilt their temple; there is also an opera of the same name.)

The pipeline, with an estimated price tag of more than $10 billion, has been slow to take off since it is still unclear where the gas would come from.

The United States and some of its European allies legally restrict energy cooperation with Iran, which is the second-largest gas producer after Russia and is the only real alternative.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, which have signed off as the only suppliers so far, are unlikely to be able to supply the needed 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year; Iraq and Egypt have also been courted as potential suppliers.

At the same time, Germany and Turkey and others are supporting the North and South stream pipelines that would bring Russian gas to them via the Baltic and Black Seas, respectively.

Officials seeking to reduce Europe's reliance on Russia have called the twin pipelines a "direct threat to Nabucco project," according to RFE/RL.

Russia expands Georgia sanctions

Russian government could slap sanctions on countries and companies supplying the Georgian military, according to President Dmitry Medvedev's executive order issued on January 19.

The order "On measures banning supplies of military and dual use technology to Georgia" threatens curtailment of military cooperation between Russia and countries providing Georgia with military support and would be in effect through the end of 2011.

Prior to the war in South Ossetia last August, Ukraine, Israel, Turkey, and the United States were the largest suppliers of weapons systems to Georgia. Israel reportedly halted military cooperation with Georgia shortly before the war.

In Turkey: Dink murder trial, apology petition, and curriculum changes

The trial of the accused assassins of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink rambled on in Istanbul this week, as his friends marked the second anniversary of his death.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders issued a statement on January 28 urging the court to keep trial proceedings "dignified," noting that one of the accused and his lawyer had repeatedly used ethnic slurs against the late Mr. Dink and his family members in attendance.

The Economist meanwhile reported that prosecutors were probing a connection between the Dink murder and the so-called Ergenekon case of alleged coup plotters. Dozens more arrests were made in the Ergenekon case on January 22.

Prosecutors refused to file "insulting Turkishness" charges against intellectuals who initiated a public apology to Armenians over the Turkey's "insensitivity" to the memory of the "Great Catastrophe," The Associated Press reported on January 26.

More than 28,000 individuals signed on to the online petition launched last December on a web site, www.ozurdiliyoruz.com, which repeatedly has been hacked, presumably by its opponents. Meanwhile, a rival site "I do not apologize" popped up and claimed the support of more than 65,000 Turks.

A state entity known as "Coordination Board to Fight Baseless Genocide Claims" decided to amend the Turkish school curriculum to remove terms like "baseless" and "so-called Armenian genocide" from eighth-grade textbooks. (The board's own name was not reported to have been changed.)

According to the newspaper Milliyet, Turkish children will now study "Turkish-Armenian relations, 1915 events, and related Armenian allegations."

Similarly in July 2007, the Turkish government reportedly instructed state officials not to refer to the term "so called Armenian genocide allegations," UlulasKanal.com reported at the time. The recommended usage was "1915 incidents" or "Armenian allegations regarding incidents in 1915," shifting official rhetoric from straightforward denial to a more ambiguous wording.

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