Commentary Magazine


Topic: envoy

“Dear Mr. Dictator. . .”

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

More doctors say “no” to Obamacare: “A coalition representing 240,000 physician specialists, like the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, said it ‘must oppose the bill as currently written.’” I wonder how many doctors are going to leave the AMA over its “expressed support for the legislation’s central elements.”

There is at least one major impediment to a health-care bill: “After months of trying to craft a 60-vote coalition based on the finer points of health care policy, Senate Democrats are growing increasingly worried that abortion will upend what had become a clear path to approving the overhaul bill.”

Uh oh: “Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ office confirmed late Friday night that the Montana Democrat was carrying on an affair with his state office director, Melodee Hanes, when he nominated her to be U.S. attorney in Montana. According to a source familiar with their relationship, Hanes and Baucus began their relationship in the summer of 2008 – nearly a year before Baucus and his wife, Wanda, divorced in April 2009.”

Mona Charen: “Barack Obama is demonstrating bottomless reservoirs of gracelessness. A full 13 months after his election, in the course of justifying the deployment of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, President Obama could not spare a word of praise for George W. Bush — not even when recounting the nation’s ‘unified’ response to 9/11. To the contrary, throughout his pained recitation of the choices we face in Afghanistan, he adverted at least half a dozen times to the supposed blunders of his predecessor.”

It seems as though the envoy-itis hasn’t worked out so well for the Obami foreign policy. But this bit of super spin about George Mitchell is quite amusing: “throughout a year of exhausting shuttle diplomacy to the Middle East and European capitals, he has not been able to achieve the major task Obama assigned him: getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the peace table.” Er, that’s one way of describing the most counterproductive year in Middle East diplomacy in decades, or maybe in history.

Meanwhile, Michael Goldfarb goes after the mealy-mouthed envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration. But the president is what matters here: “He pledged to put an end to the genocide there, and in early 2007 Biden even went so far as to call for deploying American troops to the country. As Obama’s first year comes to a close, his administration is indulging an envoy whose approach is defined by his desire to engage the war criminals who rule Sudan. Gration is Obama’s guy, and ultimately, he is implementing Obama’s policy.”

Obama drops seven points in a month in the CNN/Opinion Research poll; down to a 48-to-50% approval/disapproval rating. And that is among “American adults,” not all of whom are registered voters.

Charles Krauthammer on the “executive privilege” objection to the Obami’s social secretary’s testifying before Congress: “What is comical about this is it’s being invoked for a social secretary in a circumstance where, in the original Supreme Court rulings, it was intended for high officials with important state secrets. What was the state secret here — the nature of the flower arrangements at the head table? You know, it is as if somebody is invoking the Fifth Amendment in a dispute over a parking ticket.”

Roger Pilon of CATO explains the environmentalists’ dilemma: “At bottom, the greens face three basic problems. First, by no means is the science of global warming ‘settled’ — if anything, the fraud Climategate surfaced has settled that question. Second, even if global warming were a settled science, the contribution of human activity is anything but certain. And finally, most important, even if the answers to those two questions were clear, the costs — or benefits — of global warming are unknown, but the costs of the proposals promoted by the greens are astronomical.”

More doctors say “no” to Obamacare: “A coalition representing 240,000 physician specialists, like the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, said it ‘must oppose the bill as currently written.’” I wonder how many doctors are going to leave the AMA over its “expressed support for the legislation’s central elements.”

There is at least one major impediment to a health-care bill: “After months of trying to craft a 60-vote coalition based on the finer points of health care policy, Senate Democrats are growing increasingly worried that abortion will upend what had become a clear path to approving the overhaul bill.”

Uh oh: “Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ office confirmed late Friday night that the Montana Democrat was carrying on an affair with his state office director, Melodee Hanes, when he nominated her to be U.S. attorney in Montana. According to a source familiar with their relationship, Hanes and Baucus began their relationship in the summer of 2008 – nearly a year before Baucus and his wife, Wanda, divorced in April 2009.”

Mona Charen: “Barack Obama is demonstrating bottomless reservoirs of gracelessness. A full 13 months after his election, in the course of justifying the deployment of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, President Obama could not spare a word of praise for George W. Bush — not even when recounting the nation’s ‘unified’ response to 9/11. To the contrary, throughout his pained recitation of the choices we face in Afghanistan, he adverted at least half a dozen times to the supposed blunders of his predecessor.”

It seems as though the envoy-itis hasn’t worked out so well for the Obami foreign policy. But this bit of super spin about George Mitchell is quite amusing: “throughout a year of exhausting shuttle diplomacy to the Middle East and European capitals, he has not been able to achieve the major task Obama assigned him: getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the peace table.” Er, that’s one way of describing the most counterproductive year in Middle East diplomacy in decades, or maybe in history.

Meanwhile, Michael Goldfarb goes after the mealy-mouthed envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration. But the president is what matters here: “He pledged to put an end to the genocide there, and in early 2007 Biden even went so far as to call for deploying American troops to the country. As Obama’s first year comes to a close, his administration is indulging an envoy whose approach is defined by his desire to engage the war criminals who rule Sudan. Gration is Obama’s guy, and ultimately, he is implementing Obama’s policy.”

Obama drops seven points in a month in the CNN/Opinion Research poll; down to a 48-to-50% approval/disapproval rating. And that is among “American adults,” not all of whom are registered voters.

Charles Krauthammer on the “executive privilege” objection to the Obami’s social secretary’s testifying before Congress: “What is comical about this is it’s being invoked for a social secretary in a circumstance where, in the original Supreme Court rulings, it was intended for high officials with important state secrets. What was the state secret here — the nature of the flower arrangements at the head table? You know, it is as if somebody is invoking the Fifth Amendment in a dispute over a parking ticket.”

Roger Pilon of CATO explains the environmentalists’ dilemma: “At bottom, the greens face three basic problems. First, by no means is the science of global warming ‘settled’ — if anything, the fraud Climategate surfaced has settled that question. Second, even if global warming were a settled science, the contribution of human activity is anything but certain. And finally, most important, even if the answers to those two questions were clear, the costs — or benefits — of global warming are unknown, but the costs of the proposals promoted by the greens are astronomical.”

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Barack Obama’s South Korean Lesson

As Barack Obama takes the long flight back across the Pacific Ocean today, he would do well to reflect on his meeting with the South Korean president, a man who truly understands and exercises smart, realist diplomacy.

On paper, South Korea and the United States approach North Korea in parallel. Both want Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, and both see the six-party talks as the most likely venue for persuasion. But in reality, Lee’s approach is much tougher; his hand is extended — but he also has a clenched fist, and he’s not afraid to use it.

Last January, Lee suspended aid to North Korea, saying he’d reinstate it only after Pyongyang denuclearized. And while Lee has often said that South Korea’s top priority is peace and reconciliation with the North (a Lincolnian goal if ever there was one), he has also been smart enough to amp up his military, especially at the border. Lee has maintained a staff that could stare down Pyongyang and has fortified his outside alliances to check North Korea. Though Lee prefers international economic sanctions against North Korea, he has also made no secret that Northern military aggression would be formidably matched.

Needless to say, this approach has perturbed the North, long accustomed to extracting Southern concession. In the last year, Pyongyang declared an “all-out confrontational policy” toward South Korea, ratcheted up provocations at sea, hurled insults, held South Koreans captive, and tested missiles. Lee has nevertheless held his ground.

Yet despite his toughness, Lee has also established opportunities for the North to cooperate and re-engage. Most recently, Lee has sought what he dubbed the Grand Bargain: if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear program in a single, definitive step, the South will guarantee North Korea’s security and offer significant economic assistance.

In contrast, the U.S. is rewarding Northern bad behavior. Abducting American journalists won the North a photo-op visit from Clinton. Further fits of pique have earned the North attention from an envoy, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, who is now concretely scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Dec. 8. Obama hopes bilateral discussions will return North Korea to the six-party talks. But in reality, direct talks leave the North with even more reason to avoid six-party company.

The irony in all this is that Lee’s actions represent exactly the strategy Obama has professed since his Inaugural Address. But as Lee has proved to the North, his strategy involves more than just words.

As Barack Obama takes the long flight back across the Pacific Ocean today, he would do well to reflect on his meeting with the South Korean president, a man who truly understands and exercises smart, realist diplomacy.

On paper, South Korea and the United States approach North Korea in parallel. Both want Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, and both see the six-party talks as the most likely venue for persuasion. But in reality, Lee’s approach is much tougher; his hand is extended — but he also has a clenched fist, and he’s not afraid to use it.

Last January, Lee suspended aid to North Korea, saying he’d reinstate it only after Pyongyang denuclearized. And while Lee has often said that South Korea’s top priority is peace and reconciliation with the North (a Lincolnian goal if ever there was one), he has also been smart enough to amp up his military, especially at the border. Lee has maintained a staff that could stare down Pyongyang and has fortified his outside alliances to check North Korea. Though Lee prefers international economic sanctions against North Korea, he has also made no secret that Northern military aggression would be formidably matched.

Needless to say, this approach has perturbed the North, long accustomed to extracting Southern concession. In the last year, Pyongyang declared an “all-out confrontational policy” toward South Korea, ratcheted up provocations at sea, hurled insults, held South Koreans captive, and tested missiles. Lee has nevertheless held his ground.

Yet despite his toughness, Lee has also established opportunities for the North to cooperate and re-engage. Most recently, Lee has sought what he dubbed the Grand Bargain: if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear program in a single, definitive step, the South will guarantee North Korea’s security and offer significant economic assistance.

In contrast, the U.S. is rewarding Northern bad behavior. Abducting American journalists won the North a photo-op visit from Clinton. Further fits of pique have earned the North attention from an envoy, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, who is now concretely scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Dec. 8. Obama hopes bilateral discussions will return North Korea to the six-party talks. But in reality, direct talks leave the North with even more reason to avoid six-party company.

The irony in all this is that Lee’s actions represent exactly the strategy Obama has professed since his Inaugural Address. But as Lee has proved to the North, his strategy involves more than just words.

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How NIAC Lobbied Against Dennis Ross

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.
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As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Amitay [mailto:mamitay@osi-dc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:35 PM
To: jparillo@psr.org; PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

Ross has not worked extensively on Iran, though his most recent employer WINEP, is a “think-tank” created by AIPAC leadership in the 1980s. As Jill points out, a most troubling aspects of his limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran. (Holbrooke also serves on this body). UANI is a right-wing “pro-Israel” PR effort established to push a more militant US policy towards Iran. If in fact Ross appointment confirmed, I find this deeply troubling. One question to consider, however, is whether publicly objecting to Ross would damage our ability to work with him and others in USG in the future.

###########################################

Mike Amitay – Senior Policy Analyst
Middle East, North Africa and Central Eurasia
Open Society Institute / Open Society Policy Center
1120 19th Street, NW – 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
202-721-5625 (direct) 202-530-0138 (fax)
www.soros.org / www.opensocietypolicycenter.org

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Jill Parillo
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:03 PM
To: PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

On Ross, I sent an email earlier, but I would like to add:
Engagement with Iran is aimed at reducing tension in US-Iranian relations, to avoid war and build confidence, so to get to a point where together we can develop common policies that will US and Iranian concerns.

If someone is sent to the talks (like when Burns was) who could increase tension, the policy of engagement as a solution to the Iran challenge will not be a success.
We should talk to those that know Ross well and his policies, and ability to negotiate in a peaceful fair manner.

In spending time as part of the Department of Disarmament Affairs and at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, I sat through several high level negotiations where country Ambassadors walked out of the room because of Bush Administration officials being very rude. The right person and the right policy are important.

We need to also pay attention to who the envoy will report to, in this case it is Clinton, not Obama.
I have never met Ross in person, so I will not judge if he is a good or bad pick. However, I can say I have concerns, since he signed onto the attached paper which says, “WE BELIEVE A MILITARY STRIKE IS A FEASIBLE OPTION…..the United States will need to augment its military presence in the region. This should commence the first day the new President enters office.” I am taking this out of context, so please look at this section for yourself, but in any case, it is concerning.

Best,

Jill

PS. I am off to speak in Italy until Jan 19-Pugwash Conference, so I may not be available for much of the next 10 days. Thanks

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of pdisney@niacouncil.org
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:33 PM
To: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

All,

As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy.

I should be clear–I think we can still influence the selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible. However, if it does prove to be Ross, we have to make a choice as to how to respond.

NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. We would make it clear that we prefer to work with Obama, and that Ross does not align with Obama’s plan to change America’s approach. Obviously, there are pro’s and con’s to any strategy, but if it’s simply impossible for us to work with Ross, we should be in a position to say I told you so after he messes everything up. But I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.

Again, this is a brainstorm rather than a concrete plan. I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.
Thanks very much.
-p

January 7, 2009, 10:21 AM
Obama
Picks Foreign Envoys

Posted by Michelle

Levi

Transition officials confirm to CBS News’ Marc Ambinder that President-elect Obama has asked Dennis Ross, Richard Haas, and Richard Holbrooke, to serve as his chief emissaries to world hot spots. Ross and Holbrooke both served in senior Clinton administration roles. Haas had senior posts in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

It’s expected that Ross will be assigned the Iran portfolio, that Holbrooke, the hard-headed architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, will take the difficult Southwest Asia portfolio, including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Haas will deal with the Middle East.

Each men’s turf is still in flux, so these early assignments are not firm.
Read More Posts In Transition

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Iran: Arsonist and Firefighter

J.E. Dyer highlighted Iran’s new boldness all across the Middle East — and if I may weigh in, the Yemen situation looks like classic Iran: play the arsonist, then volunteer to be the fireman — for a small reward, naturally!

The spookiest bit of this latest twist of affairs is Washington’s response, as Jennifer notes. And when an official statement reads like this: “It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” it almost looks like it came out of the EU.  Never shall there be a military solution to a conflict! A bit like saying, “There shall be no medical solution to a disease” — let the microbes and the antibodies negotiate their way to a compromise through the good offices of the United Nations. Let them receive an envoy from the EU! But no conflict. Nope.

I can picture the fear running through the spines of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as they hear Washington’s tone quickly aligning itself with the discourse of those pugnacious Eurocrats.

J.E. Dyer highlighted Iran’s new boldness all across the Middle East — and if I may weigh in, the Yemen situation looks like classic Iran: play the arsonist, then volunteer to be the fireman — for a small reward, naturally!

The spookiest bit of this latest twist of affairs is Washington’s response, as Jennifer notes. And when an official statement reads like this: “It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” it almost looks like it came out of the EU.  Never shall there be a military solution to a conflict! A bit like saying, “There shall be no medical solution to a disease” — let the microbes and the antibodies negotiate their way to a compromise through the good offices of the United Nations. Let them receive an envoy from the EU! But no conflict. Nope.

I can picture the fear running through the spines of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as they hear Washington’s tone quickly aligning itself with the discourse of those pugnacious Eurocrats.

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Could It Get Worse?

The Obami’s human-rights policy, even many liberals would concede, has been dismal. In essence, the policy has been to ignore human-rights issues when they conflict with any other objective — ingratiating ourselves with the mullahs, for example. And even when there is no apparent national-security objective to be gained, this administration seems intent on soft-pedaling human rights and accommodating tyrannical regimes. A case in point is Burma. In this report we learn:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. will not impose conditions on Burma to force democratic changes there. But she also says existing sanctions will remain in place until the junta makes “meaningful progress” toward democracy in key areas. The United States has been urging the junta to hold fair elections, release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her to return to political life. Clinton says “this has to be resolved within” the country by its people. She told reporters Wednesday “we are not setting or dictating any conditions.”

Got that? We want meaningful progress, but elections are left to be “resolved” internally. By whom — the despotic regime? We aren’t going to impose sanctions to encourage democratic changes, but we aren’t lifting existing ones. Yes, it’s embarrassing and verging on incoherent. And of course, when we behave in this pusillanimous fashion, we convey unseriousness to the Burmese government and to the people of Burma (who would like to look to us for political and moral leadership), but also to other like-minded regimes and oppressed people in other similar locales. The mullahs are watching, as are the Syrians and the Cubans. The Russians have figured out that we aren’t serious about this stuff. The North Koreans, as well.

In short, we have systematically degraded our standing and credibility in the world, giving a green light to tyrants who have little to fear and frankly much to gain (an envoy will visit them too) by continuing their current behavior. And what have we gained, and with whom have we restored our reputation? The smart-diplomacy mavens should tell us.

The Obami’s human-rights policy, even many liberals would concede, has been dismal. In essence, the policy has been to ignore human-rights issues when they conflict with any other objective — ingratiating ourselves with the mullahs, for example. And even when there is no apparent national-security objective to be gained, this administration seems intent on soft-pedaling human rights and accommodating tyrannical regimes. A case in point is Burma. In this report we learn:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. will not impose conditions on Burma to force democratic changes there. But she also says existing sanctions will remain in place until the junta makes “meaningful progress” toward democracy in key areas. The United States has been urging the junta to hold fair elections, release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her to return to political life. Clinton says “this has to be resolved within” the country by its people. She told reporters Wednesday “we are not setting or dictating any conditions.”

Got that? We want meaningful progress, but elections are left to be “resolved” internally. By whom — the despotic regime? We aren’t going to impose sanctions to encourage democratic changes, but we aren’t lifting existing ones. Yes, it’s embarrassing and verging on incoherent. And of course, when we behave in this pusillanimous fashion, we convey unseriousness to the Burmese government and to the people of Burma (who would like to look to us for political and moral leadership), but also to other like-minded regimes and oppressed people in other similar locales. The mullahs are watching, as are the Syrians and the Cubans. The Russians have figured out that we aren’t serious about this stuff. The North Koreans, as well.

In short, we have systematically degraded our standing and credibility in the world, giving a green light to tyrants who have little to fear and frankly much to gain (an envoy will visit them too) by continuing their current behavior. And what have we gained, and with whom have we restored our reputation? The smart-diplomacy mavens should tell us.

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Re: Blair’s a Yale Man Now

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

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Re: Lefkowitz on North Korea

I’ve just learned that the State Department, in an act of childish pique masquerading as diplomatic maturity, has literally “disappeared” its own envoy Jay Lefkowitz’s Thursday speech on North Korea from its website. No matter; the American Enterprise Institute, where Lefkowitz spoke, has saved it from the going down the memory hole by posting it here.

I’ve just learned that the State Department, in an act of childish pique masquerading as diplomatic maturity, has literally “disappeared” its own envoy Jay Lefkowitz’s Thursday speech on North Korea from its website. No matter; the American Enterprise Institute, where Lefkowitz spoke, has saved it from the going down the memory hole by posting it here.

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State Eats One of Its Own

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

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Smoking Out China

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

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Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Why is he doing that? Hill provided one clue yesterday when he was in Beijing. There the American envoy told reporters that Pyongyang was delaying the issuance of its declaration because “to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.” By “certain activities,” Hill was primarily referring to North Korea’s efforts to develop a program to build nukes with uranium cores.

There is, in all probability, great concern in Beijing that a complete North Korean declaration would reveal the Chinese origin of Pyongyang’s uranium program. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of a global black-market ring in nuclear weapons technology, said he began working with North Korea around 1991. Khan agreed to transfer Chinese-designed equipment to Pyongyang, and China helped him deliver it. When Khan’s proliferation activities were exposed in the early part of this decade, Beijing persuaded Islamabad to end its investigation, pardon Khan, and keep him away from American interrogators. Beijing has steadfastly professed that it has been “completely in the dark” about Kim Jong Il’s uranium program when it is clear that it had substantial knowledge.

These denials are, as intelligence analyst John Loftus notes, “a real signal of partnership.” Some speculate that the Chinese may even have developed the long-term master plan that contemplated Pyongyang giving up its visible plutonium weapons program and keeping its covert uranium one. In any event, on Monday Agence France-Presse reported that China has developed contingency plans to grab North Korea’s nukes if that is necessary. Such an exercise would, of course, eliminate evidence of Beijing’s nuclear assistance to Pyongyang. In light of all the evidence, it appears that China recently ordered North Korea not to provide its promised declaration of its nuclear activities.

Another round of six-party talks, which Christopher Hill wants, will not help persuade North Korea to give up its arsenal. Yet insisting on a complete declaration and dragging out the disarmament process may help smoke out the world’s most dangerous proliferator. And I’m not referring to North Korea.

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North Korea’s Good Excuse

January 1 was the date, under an agreement negotiated last February, by which North Korea was supposed to come clean about its nuclear-weapons program. But the deadline came and went without a response — until January 5, when Pyongyang declared that “as far as the nuclear declaration on which wrong opinion is being built up by some quarters is concerned, [North Korea] has done what it should do.” In others, North Korea was insisting that it already done what it had not done.

After an initial and exceptionally tepid reaction from the State Department calling the broken promise “unfortunate,” the U.S. is now ratcheting down the pressure. “They’re engaging the international media, in their own way,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “It is an important point that in none of this have any of the parties been backing away at all from their commitment to the process.”

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, and now traveling in the region, has chimed in, explaining that “the problem is the [North] is not often automatically inclined to transparency and so it’s a little difficult for them.”

Connecting the Dots has three questions:

Why is the United States offering excuses for North Korean behavior?

What lesson is Iran, another aspiring nuclear power, likely to draw from this episode?

What is the right word for characterizing American behavior?

January 1 was the date, under an agreement negotiated last February, by which North Korea was supposed to come clean about its nuclear-weapons program. But the deadline came and went without a response — until January 5, when Pyongyang declared that “as far as the nuclear declaration on which wrong opinion is being built up by some quarters is concerned, [North Korea] has done what it should do.” In others, North Korea was insisting that it already done what it had not done.

After an initial and exceptionally tepid reaction from the State Department calling the broken promise “unfortunate,” the U.S. is now ratcheting down the pressure. “They’re engaging the international media, in their own way,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “It is an important point that in none of this have any of the parties been backing away at all from their commitment to the process.”

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, and now traveling in the region, has chimed in, explaining that “the problem is the [North] is not often automatically inclined to transparency and so it’s a little difficult for them.”

Connecting the Dots has three questions:

Why is the United States offering excuses for North Korean behavior?

What lesson is Iran, another aspiring nuclear power, likely to draw from this episode?

What is the right word for characterizing American behavior?

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Lessons Unlearned on North Korea

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

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By Hook or by Crooke

The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

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The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

In 2004, together with Mark Perry, Crooke set up Conflicts Forum, a lobbying group with branches in London, Beirut, and Washington. Though it claims to “connect the West and the Muslim world,” by the latter it means radical Islamists. Conflicts Forum’s stated aim is “to engage and listen to Islamists, while challenging Western misconceptions and misrepresentations of the region’s leading agents of change.” It brings together the Arabists who have always dominated the Foreign Office and security services, and serves as a vehicle to put pressure on Western governments to appease Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hizballah. The Conflicts Forum website boasts of a recent 500,000 euro grant from the E.U. under its Partnership for Peace program “for a project to help develop more inclusive and legitimate approaches to transforming the Middle East conflict.” (This sounds like a euphemism for pressure to legalize Hamas.)

Crooke makes “the case for Hamas” in the lead article of the current issue of the London Review of Books. Throughout the piece, Crooke speaks of Hamas as “moderate” and praises its “effective and corruption-free” record in government. He warns that Islamists everywhere are becoming impatient with the democratic route to power. He describes a conference in Beirut last April that debated “whether moderate Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah will manage to retain their influence over this process of radicalization.” Meanwhile, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran are “actively preparing for conflict” with Israel and the West. All the blame for this conflict, and the radicalization that feeds it, needless to say, lies with America, Europe, and Israel.

Finally, Crooke has a chilling warning to Israel: unless it gives Hamas-led Palestine what it wants, not only will more Israeli Arabs be drawn into terrorism, but Israel will confront Islamist governments in Egypt and Jordan, too. “Conflict with Iran, were it to occur, might finish up by sweeping away many of the region’s landmarks.” (Is this an implied threat of a second Holocaust?)

However one reads Crooke’s remarks, he and they are deeply sinister. On the BBC, he claimed that Hamas had already met the three “benchmarks” stipulated by the U.S. and EU as necessary for recognition. Unusually, the BBC then gave the right of reply to an Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev. The Australian-born Regev made short work of Crooke’s mendacious claims, pointing out that for Hamas to state that it accepts Israel’s existence “as a fact” means no more than accepting AIDS, say, as a fact. Regev also reminded listeners that while Israelis were pleased by Alan Johnston’s release, their own hostage, Gilad Shalit, has been held in Gaza for much longer.

On the back of the Alan Johnston affair, we should expect a new attempt to persuade the EU to resume financing Hamas, and we should anticipate finding Alastair Crooke, a T.E. Lawrence wannabe, in the forefront of it.

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