Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made comments today about talks with Hamas hitting “a dead end.” This puts the prospects for peace with Israel in serious jeopardy, as Hamas was instrumental in securing the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire last week. Without Hamas, Abbas has no true influence in the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian President is either trying to pressure Hamas on something — and Hamas doesn’t believe him, they think he’s bluffing — or he is making the statement for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who is meeting with him and Israeli PM Olmert). It is well known that despite its democratic election in January, the US and other countries do not welcome a political role for Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. For this reason financial aid from the West has been blocked since the election.

It is conceivable that Abbas’ statements are intended for Rice; in the hopes of securing aid, the Palestinian President may be signaling that he is not a pushover and will challenge Hamas when needed. But those kinds of comments can potentially jeopardize whatever momentum the peace process has right now, as it is in the interests of Abbas to have Hamas on his side. Otherwise, the threat to security will not come from without, but from within. And Palestine certainly doesn’t need a civil war.

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US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has spoken out against the potentiality of directly talking to Iran and Syria. The plan, favored by Tony Blair, has been circulated in the last week or so; anticipation has been high as the world awaits the Iraq Study Group‘s verdict on a US exit strategy from Iraq.

Rice’s statements come among speculation that there is a divide developing between Britain and the US, two close allies in Iraq. The speculation has been so far-reaching that the White House even denied that their is a rift developing, by blaming reporters’ use of language in covering Blair’s meeting with the ISG.

When such speculation surfaces and when the White House takes the time to prepare a fact sheet explaining that there is no divide, chances are that there is some truth to the speculation. The question is how much truth.

What we do know is that Blair did address the idea of working with Iran and Syria yesterday. And, in consequence, Condoleeza Rice has said that Iran and Syria are not ready for direct talks. According to the US Secretary of State, Iran has not indicated a willingness to talk. Ms Rice disregarded Ahmadinejad’s readiness to talk to a “corrected” US. Syria, on the other hand, has once again been accused of causing trouble in Lebanon and insulting US allies.

The current differences are not significant yet, but may become so once the ISG delivers its report to President Bush. In the meantime, the US and Britain have time to come to an understanding. After all, Britain is the US’ closest ally in Iraq. And the US does not want to be left alone in the embattled region, once UK troops start to withdraw.

Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency has urged for talks, not sanctions, with North Korea and Iran.

Unalarmed by Iran’s testing of new uranium-enrichment technology, the IAEA chief made it clear that he favors dialogue. The statments come after ElBaradei met with Condoleezza Rice, who just completed a tour of Asia (with a stop in Russia) to garner support for implementing Resolution 1718 and perhaps prepare harsher sanctions on North Korea, unless talks resume.

The Secretary of State’s verdict on the situation is still pending. Some sort of announcement should happen this week.

More Tests in North Korea?

October 22, 2006

Condoleezza Rice has denied reports that Kim Jong Il has expressed remorse over the first nuclear test and has promised no follow-up.

Ms Rice has said that the US feels that N Korea wants to escalate the crisis.

The statements were made as the Secretary of State arrived in Moscow. Rice clearly does not know what to expect from Russia, an integral player in the region (and a neighbor to North Korea). Thus, she is preparing for every possible scenario — handling the crisis with or without Russian support of the sanctions.

Any statements or announcements that will be made once her visit is complete, will be the key ones to follow to read the situation and see what may be coming next.

Rice in Russia

October 22, 2006

On Anna Politkovskaya

Condoleezza Rice has met with the family of Anna Politkovskaya and the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta in Moscow. The move was meant to show support for the remains of the free press in Russia.

Politkovskaya is an investigative reporter who was gunned down at her appartment building two weeks ago. Fingers have been pointed at the government, as she has been active in Chechnya and obviously had unfavourable things to say about Russia’s handling of the conflict. However, it is hard to imagine the government conspiring to kill her, because her death has done her more harm than her reporting — the paper she writes for is not as influential, nor does she represent a mainstream trend.

In that sense, it is fair to say that the press is no longer free in Russia: if a reporter like Anna Politkovskaya has to settle for Novaya Gazeta (and not, Pravda, Moskovskiy Komsomolets or even the Nezavisimaya Gazeta), it means that other publications are being persuaded to publish a different kind of reporting. And her reporting severely differed from what was being written by other reporters on Chechnya.

One of the biggest failures of the Russian democracy under President Putin has been the inability to truly foster an independent press. The press itself is independent enough in terms of ownership, but what gets written is sometimes too close to the executive line.

On Georgia

In a slight change of town, the Secretary of State has commented the Russia-Georgia conflict by saying she hopes for a “de-escalation” and wishes that both sides have “cooler heads” over the issue. No longer is the finger being pointed directly at Russia: after all, the Secretary of State cannot criticize Russia for imposing sanctions on Georgia, if she is to ask Russia to do the same for North Korea.

North Korea

No announcements have been made vis-à-vis Russia’s position on the North Korea situation. This was the main reason for Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Russian capital.

Kim Jong-Il: No More Tests

October 20, 2006

It’s now more and more evident (and no longer speculation), that the October 9th nuclear test was a way to begin talks and get a leg up for the upcoming talks.

South Korean media have reported that Kim Jong-Il has made clear to Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan that no more tests will be carried out.

Interesting to see if the reported “activity” at a suspected N Korean site will continue. (Or if those reports were fabricated?)

Also interesting to see if any announcements will be made after Condoleezza Rice meets with Russian officials.

US political victory

October 20, 2006

Chinese banks have reportedly stopped financial transfers to North Korea in an effort to fulfill the obligations of Resolution 1718.

This is a signal accomplishment of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been in talks with Chinese officials yesterday. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks if any incentives were offered to China for this. (I.e. if any surprise announcements will be made.)

This is a fair political victory for the US, because China is ultimately the closest ally that North Korea has and is also its hub to the world economy.

What next? Negotiations? Or a second test for North Korea to ameliorate its bargaining position? Unless serious negotiations get under way after Condoleezza Rice visits Russia today, we can expect a second test to occur.