There are big hopes for next week’s 6-party talks with North Korea. Christopher Hill, key negotiator for the US, has said that the US is hoping for progress.

It’s likely that this progress will happen, and that the Koreans will get what they’ve been seeking, which is aid. It is also very likely that the financial sanctions against imposed on the regime in 2005, will be adjusted. The US has engaged in separate talks for those sanctions, but those talks are certainly linked to the nuclear issue. After all, it was after the October test and the December talks, that the US was ready to have serious dialogue about the financial sanctions.

While Hill is being careful in what he’s saying and has made it clear that specific concessions on North Korea’s side are a requirement, there have been reports that North Korea will be more lenient in accepting those concessions. And accepting US aid.

What does this all mean? If the talks next week are successful, then the Koreans would have won a double victory. Not only are they now able in nuclear technology (and could re-ignite any program that gets slowed down), they could potentially be recipients of very needed foreign aid.

The nuclear program, having yielded results, can be stalled for this aid. And rebooted if that aid stops.

Sometimes hard power can still produce results.

This week, things turned for the worse in Lebanon, with violence erupting in Beirut. But both the government and the opposition seem to be showing maturity by calling for unity in Lebanon to prevent an outbreak of civil war.

This situation is very indicative of what is going on in Lebanon: the protests of recent months are not opportunistic, but realistic. There is a significant segment of the Lebanese population that dislikes the way the current government is handling the country. And instead doing things un-democratically, through terror, the disenchanted are taking peaceful means to voice their concerns and demands. No one can doubt that Hezbollah, a key player in the protests, is capable of acts of terror (and ones of magnitude). After all, it was Hezbollah that seriously challenged the reputation of the IDF this summer. However, Hezbollah has not been violent. There is no indication that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, which occurred before the protests began, has been linked to the politically active group.

Nevertheless, some pro-government officials in Lebanon are saying the violence is the responsibility of protesters. Samir Geagea has accused the opposition of trying to take force by “force” and has said that the continuation of protests would lead to “civil war.”

Gaegea has a point, in that if the government continues to dispute protesters’ demands, violence will eventually break out. But it won’t be the fault of the protesters, but Lebanon’s government. Now is not the time to be stubborn. The opposition — and a large number of the Lebanese population — have shown this movement to be more than the Orange revolution, so widely publicized as a triumph for democracy, so it’s time for Prime Minister Siniora to listen and stop demanding.

The PM has refused to negotiate with the opposition until protests cease.

The US ambassador to Kenya is now urging the transitional government in Somalia to talk to “moderates” in the country’s Islamist movement.

What occurred in the last few weeks was that the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) government was expelled, with tactical aid from the US as well as the involvement of the Ethiopian army; a new government has been installed. The US has also hit suspected terrorist targets in the country, though it’s unclear how successful these were.

What’s curious is that the UIC government, which had been in power for about six months, was that it managed to restore some order to the war-torn country. In fact, the new government may not be as welcome as it may seem, because that order is now threatened with the Islamists fighting back. The Ethiopians’ welcome will also come to an end soon, because the country is seen as very ambitious for influence in Somalia and those ambitions will not be welcomed by Somalis.

What the African Union peacekeepers, on their way to replace the Ethiopians, will be able to provide is unclear as well.

Right now it just seems like a very messy situation. The US ambassador in question, Michael Ranneberger, has said that all elements of Somali society should participate as long as they renounce terrorism, extremism and violence. That’s a fair statement to make, however members of the UIC have just been the victims of violence themselves, so they just may not be ready to renounce it quite yet.

Somalis who have witnessed the civilian casualties imposed on them by US air strikes on suspected terrorist targets can also be mobilized for violence and terrorism, much easier than before.

Lt Gen Dan Halutz, the head of Israel’s armed forces, just resigned over the handling of the Lebanon campaign this summer. The confrontation has largely been seen as an Israeli failure.

There are reports suggesting Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, may be concerned that he will also be called upon to resign, but those close to him say there is no link between the responsibilities of defense minister and army head.

However, Peretz is forgetting that he was the one that gave the go-ahead for the war and that it was probably his recommendation that Israel react with force, to a comparatively minor incident (two soldiers were taken hostage). It is his ministry’s responsibility to assess every possible scenario and to recommend the best option to the country’s executive.

In the end, Halutz was only acting on the defense ministry’s decision and, as its head, Peretz should be ready to accept responsibility.

Nick Primiano faces FACE

January 16, 2007

Montreal, Quebec — Former FACE school principal Nick Primiano met with FACE students, teachers, and parents at Christ Church Cathedral on Monday night. The event, organized by SOS FACE, was the first opportunity for members of the school’s community to speak to Primiano since his suspension in September and his subsequent resignation in November.

Having signed a confidentiality agreement with the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), Primiano gave the best explanation he could, by providing anecdotes from his encounters with school board officials over the years. The most notable example was a phone call that the then-principal received from a CSDM functionary concerning media reports of parents camping outside the school to register their children there. Primiano expected a word of congratulations, but instead was chastised for creating a “spectacle” that left “people with questions.”

Alluding to the allegations brought against him by the CSDM, the former principal did not deny bending rules when it came to administering the school.

“Want to find me guilty of putting the students first? No problem…Sure, I didn’t respect some rules,” said Primiano. “Nobody can say that I didn’t serve the students.”

Addressing his November 1 resignation, Primiano provided three reasons for the decision: age, family and the school’s best interest. At age 54, and near the end of his career, Primiano didn’t feel he had the health to fight a court battle which would take several years to complete; it would also put FACE in limbo, if his situation continued to be unresolved. He also felt that his presence at the school was doing more harm than good, with the CSDM often targeting him for what he was doing with “his” school, as officials often put it.

Sylvie Tremblay, who had served on the school’s governing board for several years, supported Primiano’s claims, saying that the school faced daily battles with the school boards.

When asked by reporters about the CSDM’s suspension and the charges of wrongdoing which he accepted as part of his agreement with the CSDM, Primiano dismissed them as ridiculous. According to Primiano, an inventory that is not up-to-date is not uncommon for a school the size of FACE. As far as the budget of the school’s daycare program is concerned, the school’s daycare usually runs a surplus; last year it was around $43 000 CDN.

“Principals use those surpluses differently. Some during a year, some at the end of the year…Apparently there’s a rule that you can’t touch it until the end of the year,” said Primiano.

When the evening concluded, the former principal thanked all present and reminded students that the school belonged to them, the teachers, and the parents who volunteer a reported 3000 hours during the school year. He was also optimistic about the new administration and the potential for FACE to reach new heights.

As a result of the contentious Dujail Trial, Iraq has gone ahead with two more hangings. This time, state television is not broadcasting the executions, one of which ended in an accidental decapitation.

Journalists were shown a silent video recording of the process which took place overnight.

In late December, Saddam Hussein’s execution was broadcast on state television; the video was also silent. It was later revealed that the former Iraqi President was taunted and insulted as he was hanged. The revelation came from a rogue video with audio recorded on a cellphone and leaked onto the internet.

Iraqi officials are saying that these hangings were carried out appropriately and that the video will not be made public. Keeping it private makes some sense, but it also negates the necessity of showing a silent video to journalists. If Iraq’s executioners and officials have really learnt their lesson after hanging Saddam Hussein, shouldn’t members of the media be able to verify that?

Once again, Iraq is showing to not be as transparent a society as is expected from a democracy. There is no free media in Iraq and the government expects its story to be broadcast and not challenged. This is precisely why the official who leaked the video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was arrested.

Talabani talking with Syria

January 14, 2007

Iraqi President Talabani is continuing to show a pro-active stance in Iraqi foreign policy. Following the official return of diplomatic ties with Syria in November, the President is now meeting with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus.

Syria is a vital player in the region and, over the years, has had important relations with Iran: the ties between the two nations developed when Syria sided with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. It’s also worth mentioning that the Iraq Study Group’s report released in early December favored dialogue with Iran and Syria, Iraq’s immediate neighbors. President Talabani seems to be following this policy, even if the US is reluctant to do the same. In fact, the Iraqi President has become a somewhat unnamed figure in Iraqi leadership.

In his address to Americans Wednesday, President Bush did not mention Talabani, only mentioning Prime Minister Maliki. This is consistent with US foreign policy of late, which has been centred on dealing exclusively with Maliki.

Part of the reason that the US is dealing with Maliki is that as Prime Minister he is the one dealing with domestic issues and the US’ main concern is the domestic insurgency in Iraq. However, if one is to accept US reports of Iranian and Syrian involvement in the insurgency, then Iraq’s foreign policy is key. In that sense, President Talabani is doing his job well: he met with the Iranian leadership in November and is now meeting with Assad in Syria.

In fact, Talabani is showing an independent approach to foreign policy, and the US has been very keen on having Iraqis take the lead in securing their own safety.

If its intentions are peaceful, then the US must consider talking to Iran and Syria as well. The two countries have shown that they are ready to talk and this is not a direct result of the announced troops surge. Reportedly, the meeting between Talabani and Assad has been a year in the making.