Barack Obama’s new policy of dialogue

Press review – week from March 9 to 12, 2009

Gerald Papy stresses in La Libre Belgique on Monday the changes to come in the Middle East policy of the new American administration: possibility of dialogue with moderate Taliban to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iran’s invitation to a conference on the Afghanistan in late March, and the opening of the discussions with Syria. According to him, only time will tell whether these measures have been effective or naive.

Appointed three weeks ago as special adviser to Hillary Clinton for the Persian Gulf and the South West Asia, Denis Ross had described the new trend in the region to connect « a bigger stick and a bigger carrot « (RFI 24 / 2), which means bigger penalties but also more attractive offers.

What role for Europe?

And Bush’s unilateralism is well and truly over. Evidenced by the visit of Joe Biden to NATO and the EU in Brussels earlier this week. U.S. Vice-President has invited the Europeans to become more involved in the war in Afghanistan, arguing that « no one can avoid its responsibility for addressing the threats that accumulate in the region. » In Le Figaro on Tuesday Jean-Jacques Mével draws attention to the fact that if the approach has a conciliatory outside, Washington express also more requirements vis-à-vis its European partners. Interviewed the same day by the daily, Bernard Kouchner said that Europeans are « friends and allies of the Americans but not followers » and the French diplomacy of the last two years had managed to open the way for a number of initiatives as dialogue with Syria. As for the rest of the new U.S. policy in the Middle East, French Foreign Minister expressed France’s support for dialogue with Iran and the need to deal with Afghanistan. As for Palestinians, he said that the only condition to support the future government of national unity will be its recognition of prior peace agreements and the Arab Peace Initiative. He stresses the importance of the participation of Hamas.

Remodeling inter-Arab balance

Le Monde quoted Mr Abdel Monem Said, director of the reputed center Al Ahram for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. According to him, « America enters finally in the post-September 11 era » and the forthcoming changes will reshape the existing inter-Arab balance. We already could see a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria, whom relations were cold since the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, but also a low profile of Qatar who was positioning itself recently in a new “Arab refusal front » in opposing the Egyptian policy in relation to Israel.

In the Washington Times, Nader Saeed, a professor of sociology at Bir Zeit University (West Bank) expressed fears giving that Obama only concentrates on the axis Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan, thus ignoring the process of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Mohamed Sadeq Husseini of Arab-Iranian Forum for Dialogue said that he believes the participation of Iran in the future conference on Afghanistan, because the Taliban’s seizure on the border areas with Iran represents a danger to the latter.

The future of Iran-US relations does not seem as certain as the Turkish daily Hürriyetreported that Iran rejected a Turkish proposal for mediation in its dialogue with the United States. According to Ayatollah Khamenei, the U.S. continues on the same path and did not recognize their past mistakes in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Gaza today. Turkish President Abdullah Gül seems to be more optimistic about the future of the relations between Washington and Tehran because he said « an atmosphere of trust can be created by actions that show we are sincere. »

Israel reinsured

Despite all the diplomatic efforts towards the American enemies of Israel, nothing is to be feared because the U.S. military aid to Israel will be maintained. Haaretz said that the $ 30 billion promised to Ehud Olmert will not be reevaluated whether for economic or political reasons. The Israeli daily points out that the new U.S. administration wants also the new Israeli government to begin a peace process with the Palestinians.

Haaretz also announced that contacts were held between the Likud and the Syrians before the election. According to the Israeli daily, the two sides seem ready to resume a peace process that solve the problems of the Golan, as well as the area of the Shebaa Farms.

Obama’s era will definitely change the balance in the Middle East, which can lead to easier relations but can also contribute to stress them. In the words of Gerald Papy (LLB, 9 / 3), only the future will tell us if all these measures are effective or naive.