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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

The disclosure on Friday of a nuclear site near the city of Qum and Sunday’s test-fire of three short-range missiles has put the world’s focus on Iran. Iran insists it has done nothing wrong, but leaders of the United States, France, and Great Britain have called on the country to allow intense international inspections of the nuclear facility. Opinions differ on whether or not to impose harsher sanctions against Iran, with the US arguing for stricter economic sanctions and European allies against them for fear of the damage they might do to ordinary Iranians. To learn more about the debate on sanctions, check out this article from the New York Times.

Tonight’s program at the World Affairs Council is a discussion with Charles Ferguson, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored Independent Task Force, and Task Force member Scott Sagan. They will present key recommendations to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal. Ferguson spoke to CNN on Friday about the events in Iran. You can watch the interview here.

This event will be followed on Wednesday with a program featuring former Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik. He will discuss his work as president of The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights as well as his recent partnership with the former President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, and how the two have been working together to increase understanding, reduce tensions, counter stereotypes, and promote peaceful dialogue between the Islamic world and the West.

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Ahead of a very busy week at the United Nations, President Barack Obama met yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. President Obama said, “My message to these two leaders is clear. Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward.” To read more about the President’s meeting, check out this article from the The New York Times.

Offering San Francisco the opportunity to join in this discussion first-hand, the World Affairs Council will be hosting leaders from both Israel and Palestine next month. Join us on October 22 to hear former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and on October 27 for a program with Maen Areikat, the Chief PLO Representative to the United States.

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Monday evening at the World Affairs CouncilNeil MacFarquhar, UN Bureau Chief to The New York Times, offered his unique perspective on life in the Middle East. With a collection of anecdotes collected over 25 years of both personal and professional experience in the region, MacFarquhar brought the diversity and character of the people to light. These experiences range from a night in an Iranian prison where he shared a cell with men who had skied on the women-only ski slopes to receiving electronic birthday greetings from Hizbollah, the inspiration behind the title of his latest book, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday.

For more of Neil MacFarquhar’s stories and insights into the Middle East, visit our online archives for full audio and video recordings of Monday’s event. Check out a short clip below.

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His Excellency Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, joined the Council last week to discuss US-Egyptian relations and current issues in the Middle East. In his speech, and lengthy question and answer portion of the event, he covered issues from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran’s nuclear program to trade, economic aid, and political reform within Egypt. For more on US-Egyptian relations and current issues in the Middle East, as well as insights into Egypt’s internal affairs, check out our the full audio and video recording from this event. Preview the full video recording below:


 

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David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent for The New York Times, drew a large and attentive audience to our auditorium last night for his lecture, “The World Obama Confronts.” Although accounts of the Iraq War often focus on its direct costs, Sanger, in his lecture and recently published first book, The Inheritance, explores the depth of the potentially greater opportunity costs. He argues that many challenges Obama currently faces stem from imminent threats in Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran that had been ignored by the previous administration while fighting the War in Iraq. The award-winning veteran reporter provides extensive knowledge of the “costs of distraction” inherited from the previous administration that Obama is now only beginning to confront, as well insight into current issues including the Iranian elections, North Korea’s nuclear test, and challenges in the newspaper and publishing industries.

To learn more about the challenges Obama faces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran, listen to the full program here.

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President Obama’s speech in Cairo today clearly outlines a shift in US foreign policy toward the Middle East – a shift about which many are hopeful, and others wary.  Last week, Stephen Stedman, Senior Fellow of the Center for International Security & Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University, joined us to discuss the opportunity that President Obama has to rethink US foreign policy, and the implications it could have for cooperation in safeguarding our common resources and tackling shared threats.  Listen to the full audio program here.

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With a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador under President George W. Bush to the United Nations, Iraq and Afghanistan, joined the Council this past week for an in-depth discussion on the Middle East. At the outset, he humbly noted that during his time in public office, he “had the privilege of having to work in times of great change and challenge.” On Afghanistan, he discussed the challenges of setting up a government following the overthrow of the Taliban in a country that for the past 30 years had very few functioning institutions and very little existing infrastructure. On Iraq, he highlighted some of the early mistakes that took place following the invasion, including the dissolving of the Iraqi army, deep de-Baathification, and the way the new Iraqi security forces incorporated armed and violent militias. As a Muslim of Afghan descent, Ambassador Khalilzad emphasized that to succeed in the Middle East, one has to have a feel for the region, a feel for the culture, a feel for the customs. He noted that following 9/11 when there was a great demand for Arabic speakers and Middle East experts, too many people in the government had a background in Soviet and Russian affairs. More specifically, “during the post-9/11 world of policy, a lot of people around the president advising him were very smart people, most of them were my friends and are still my friends, but they were not trained [and] did not have significant experience in dealing with the broader Middle East, with the challenges of the Islamic world.”

Watch a highlight clip of the event:

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Today, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted the first session of the Center for Preventative Action Symposium on preventative priorities for the next administration. Madeleine K. Albright, Principal, The Albright Group and former U.S. Secretary of State, moderated the event with CFR President Richard N. Haass. Interestingly, panels throughout the day did not focus heavily on the global financial crisis, threats posed by Al-Qaeda, wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, Iranian or North Korean nuclear ambitions, climate change, or any other major threats that the news has focused on so heavily. Rather, the day focused on the importance of crisis prevention – of anticipating threats not even yet on the horizon, rather than on immediate issues. Madeleine Albright and other panelists make a thought-provoking case.

Watch the event here.

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