A thorny dispute between the United States lately has to do with the Russians' objections to planned US missile defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, ostensibly to destroy Iranian nuclear missiles (if they had any). However, President Obama has signalled to Russia that if Iran does not develop such weapons, there will be no need for missile defences. [Subtext: Please, President Medvedev, help us stop Iran if you want to be our friend.]
Although two-thirds of all Czech citizens had not wanted the US's radar installation anyway, their government was going ahead with the plan until recently. But on March 17, the Czech government withdrew its ratification process, for it appeared that the Chamber of Deputies was likely to reject it.
Czech Prime Minister Topolanek said that the government had not abandoned its plan for the radar and would re-introduce it for a vote after the NATO summit in April. However, many Czechs doubt that the measure will actually come up again. If it does, there will be global protests against it.
Talks have been going on among the Taliban and with foreign officials about the possibility of negotiating a settlement to the war in Afghanistan. So far, there have been no face-to-face meetings among authorized principals. The discussions are at the level of "talking about talking." But there is new hope.
Some of the meetings have taken place in Dubai and others in the Kabul home of Maulvi Mohammed Rahmani, a tribal elder and former Taliban minister who is serving as a channel of communication to the insurgents. Rahmani and others travelled to Saudi Arabia last year and now these discussions are continuing with the Obama administration's approval.
Some of the conditions might involve the release of some prisoners, or changes to the Afghan constitution to allow a political wing of the Taliban to bring rural supporters into politics.
The effort may not succeed because the Taliban are winning and may see no reason to negotiate when they are ahead. Also there are elections coming up in August and only a leader elected with a strong mandate would be in a position to negotiate with the Taliban. The Obama policy will be clear in a week or so when the new plans for the region are released.
Source: The Guardian, Mar 22.
The peaceful pro-democracy activists of Burma called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on March 18 to secure the release of all political prisoners in their country, notably the Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for the last 13 years and on other occasions before then.
Other supporters of her movement remain in jail, and the protesters risked imprisonment themselves just to issue this appeal.
The global economic crisis has made aid even more necessary, and the activists believe that the ruling military dictators are increasingly vulnerable to international pressure. In December 112 former presidents and prime ministers from 50 countries sent a letter to the secretary-general, asking him to take action.
The number 8 is considered significant in Burmese culture. As the ruling junta is superstitious, the protesters want to present them a petition with 888,888 signatures. You can sign at avaaz.org/en/free_burma_ political_prisoners/?cl=1987487648c=3010.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered a speech on March 17 that clarified British policies on nuclear energy and proliferation. It revealed a new flexibility toward Iran, in that he recognized its right to nuclear energy and announced that it would be a test case for helping other non-nuclear countries to develop their civilian power without posing greater risks of proliferation.
In this regard, he seemed in sync with the Obama administration, which intends to negotiate with Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated that Iran will be involved in the discussions about Afghanistan.
Looking ahead to the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review Conference, Brown said that Britain, working with other countries, will strengthen the nonproliferation regime and double its contribution to the IAEA's Nuclear Security Fund.
Moreover, he promised a "credible roadmap toward disarmament by all the nuclear weapon states," taking a minor step toward this disarmament goal by announcing that Britain's Trident missiles would be reduced from 16 to 12. While welcome, this news does not amount to much of a reduction, when contrasted to the decision made in March 2007 to build the next generation of submarine-based nuclear weapons.
Sources: Joanne Landy of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Rebecca Johnson, writing for Acronym.