Focal Points Blog

Two Women, Catherine Ashton and Wendy Sherman, Key Shapers of Iran Deal

 

Catherine Ashton

Catherine Ashton

The Right Honorable Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, daughter of a coal-mining father, single mom, and the first person in her family to go to college, climbed into a helicopter last August to visit the deposed President of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi, being held in a secret location. The first Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, and a sophisticated Middle-East hand who had publicly declared her sympathy with the Palestinian cause, she was the only person from the West trusted by the Egyptians to meet with Morsi. Last weekend, “Cathy” Ashton was heralded as one of the top negotiators sealing the first-stage agreement on halting the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

About the same time Ashton was meeting with President Morsi, Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s Undersecretary for Political Affairs, was facing a difficult Senate briefing on Iran, in which she made some rude comments. A long-time Washington insider, lobbyist, Congressional staffer, and consultant, Sherman comes from a prominent Jewish family in upstate New York and is widely considered one of Israel’s most supportive high-level friends. At the same time, she is also known as an experienced and tough negotiator on nuclear issues, a “bad-ass” according to one CNN foreign affairs reporter. As Chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, she joined Ashton in the final talks in Geneva, heading the U.S. negotiating team for the last round.
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Netanyahu May Take Out His Frustration Over Iran Nuke Deal on Israel-Palestine Peace Talks

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

By now you’re all familiar with the provisional deal that the United States and Iran have agreed to about Iran’s nuclear energy program. As with anything like this, due to forces beyond the principals’ control, it’s always, at some level, a zero-sum control. In the New York Times, Mark Landler reports:

“The Palestinian issue is the big casualty of this deal,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former administration official who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Now that they have an Iran deal, over the strong objections of Israel, it’s going to be very hard to persuade Netanyahu to do something on the Palestinian front.”
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Mother Agnes-Mariam Warns That Islamic Extremists Undermine Peace Prospects in Syria

Mother Agnes Mariam

Mother Agnes-Mariam Comes to Denver

Last week Mother Agnes Mariam, mother-superior of the monastery of St. James, the Mutilated in Qara, in the Qalamoun District of Syria, which is north of Damascus, visited Denver as part of a U.S. tour which is taking her coast to coast. She spoke at three public venues in two days and then rushed off to catch a plane to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she also has had several speaking engagements, covered by the Nebraska press.

The Christian Palestinian family of the good mother-superior hails from Nazareth, now in Israel, from whence it was expelled and made refugee in 1948 when Israel was founded. Growing up in Lebanon, she was educated by that country’s Maronite Community. Before entering the Melkite Greek Catholic order, Mother Agnes-Mariam claims to have partnered with a group of American hippies in her youth, she with bible in hand. While little attracted to their hashish smoking, she absorbed their commitment to world peace. 
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China: What Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Israel, and the U.S. Have in Common

The Israeli and Chinese Navies. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Israeli and Chinese Navies. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If there is a nation (not “state”) that can successfully convince the Arabs, the Jews and the Persians to sit down simultaneously for a talk, it can only be the Chinese. With the historical cultural links and for immense economic interests, China is both eager and able to lay the table.

Having had the 11,179-kilometer (6,946-mile) iron silk road in operation going through Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and China, Beijing is now working assiduously to push for the implementation of the United Nations 80,900-km Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) project which knits 24 countries including Iran, Armenia and Turkey together. Furthermore, the August 2013 opening of the US$500 million Chinese-built port in Colombo, Sri Lanka, represented the first step of realizing Beijing’s vision of a “maritime silk road” between Africa and East Asia, exposing the Arabian Peninsula as a key mid-way security concern. Being blocked by Japan to go eastward, China has tons of reasons to get the west bound roads through and reliable.
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Nuclear Weapons’ Lofty Safety Standards Often Go Unmet

NuclearMissile


Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

In a blog post for his site Defusing the Nuclear Threat, Martin Hellman quoted from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent speech honoring Gen. Robert Kehler, the outgoing chief of STRATCOM, the military command in charge of nuclear weapons, and cyber- and space warfare. “Perfection must be the standard for our nuclear forces,” Hagel said at one point. At another: “there is no room for error.”
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Roma and the American Civil Rights Movement

Michael Simmons

Michael Simmons

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The comparison has frequently been made between the experience of Roma in East-Central Europe and African Americans in the United States. Roma have likewise suffered from slavery, segregation, rampant discrimination, forced assimilation. They have also campaigned for their civil rights in nearly every country where they live. So far, however, these campaigns have had only limited effect. Although some Roma have achieved social, economic, or political success, the community as a whole remains on the margins.

In 1995, I participated in an exchange between Roma activists and African American veterans of the civil rights movement  in Szentendre, a town outside of Budapest. The two groups shared many stories about their experiences and their respective histories. Often the stories moved in parallel though at a distance of some years. One African American participant, for instance, described the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins at Woolworth’s in 1960. A Roma participant from the Czech Republic told a story about his recent efforts to organize a sit-in in his hometown where several restaurants had put up signs near the entrances barring Roma.
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We Forget That Deterrence Doesn’t Need to Be Nuclear

NuclearWarhead

The logic of deterrence is irrefutable to most, especially when applied to nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, its effectiveness is questioned by everyone from disarmament activists to revisionist historians ― some of whom maintain that other factors constrained the United States and the U.S.S.R. from attacking each other during the Cold War ― to nuclear-weapons advocates. Among the last are those who assert that deterrence is of little value against a state such as Iran in the event that it were to acquire nuclear weapons. Apocalyptic clerics, they allege, would supposedly martyr their country rather than back down from a nuclear standoff, thus necessitating, at some point, a preemptive strike.
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NSA Surveillance’s Cost-Benefit Ratio

Senator Frank Church, spied on by the NSA

Senator Frank Church, spied on by the NSA

Polls show that a majority of Americans rhetorically oppose the extensive domestic surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). But the outrage is far less than one might expect, considering the agency’s profound intrusion into people’s private spheres.

One explanation for this might be that, in the age of Facebook and Google, people are simply used to the massive sharing of information as a condition for using social media services. The currency is information, not money—a price many citizens seem to be very willing to pay.

Many might also think that they are simply not affected by the extensive collection of data—and even if they are, it is unclear why they, innocent citizens with “nothing to hide,” should be concerned. After all, the collection is done for the sake of security, a value many are willing to pay for with their privacy.
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Obama Administration Actually Doesn’t Want Too Good a Nuclear Deal With Iran

Iran Talks

In an article at Truthout, Gareth Porter explains how French objections that undermined the nuclear deal that the six power including the United States were offering Iran were in deference to Israel, with whom the French foreign ministry has been close since the administration of President Sarkozy. He then makes a subtle point.

From the beginning of the talks in October through last week’s negotiations, Iran had been proposing an agreement that would [lead to an] end game [which] for Iran meant the removal of all the sanctions against Iran in return for Iran’s acceptance of strict limits on its enrichment and the acceptance of much more intrusive monitoring by the IAEA.

But, what

… concerned US officials primarily was whether Iran could achieve a breakout to a bomb. … If Iran ended its 20 percent enrichment and systematically was eliminating its stockpile of uranium that could still be enriched to weapons-grade levels (90 percent), the Obama administration might feel that the urgency of the crisis had lessened.
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Cameroon’s Chantal Biya – From the Streets to the Halls of Power

The Biyas and the Obamas. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Biyas and the Obamas. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Library of Congress: only U.S. copy

I am wondering if the copy of Bertrand Teyou’s  La Belle de la Republique Bananière: Chantal Biya – de la rue au Palais* which I acquired is the only copy of the book here in the United States. Most copies of the book were confiscated by the Cameroon government itself. My search for it did produce a lone copy from the Library of Congress, which was sent me through the modern miracle of the inter-library loan system. I doubt it was an original – but seemed instead to be a Xeroxed copy, its pages poorly cut with a paper cutter, so that some of the text was cut away.

Still there it was, and I read it in its entirety.

For his contribution to our understanding of the psychology of power and female upward mobility in Cameroon Teyou was rewarded by being thrown in prison for six months where he nearly died. He would have, if not for an international campaign to free him that included publicity of his fate by organizations like Amnesty International and PEN International.
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