Leaders of Taiwan and China hold historic meeting – The Economist Nov 7th 2015

IT WAS a brief encounter—an hour of discussions followed by a low-key dinner—but one of great historical resonance. Not since Mao Zedong’s takeover of China in 1949 had there been any meeting between the leaders of China and the island of Taiwan, to which the defeated government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek fled. At a hotel in Singapore, Xi Jinping, China’s president, and his Taiwanese counterpart, Ma Ying-jeou, clearly revelled in the symbolism, grinning and waving as they shook hands before a mass of cameras gathered in a ballroom. But China’s dream of eventual unification with Taiwan is no closer to fulfilment, and its suspicion of the island’s increasingly separate identity is undiminished.

Officials had given only a few days’ notice of the unexpected meeting, which took place on the sidelines of Mr Xi’s long-planned state visit to Singapore. Careful choreography aimed to ensure that both statesmen would be seen as equals. The two emerged into the flash bulbs together, but from opposite sides of the room. They had agreed to refer to each other using only the honorific “Mr”, forgoing titles such as “president”, which would risk conveying legitimacy. And both delegations have reportedly agreed to split the bill for dinner, and for the use of the hotel’s conference rooms.

The seeds of the meeting were some very immediate concerns. Ties between the two countries have warmed immensely during Mr Ma’s premiership. But term limits require him to step down at elections in January, when polls suggest the presidency (and perhaps the legislature) will fall to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose members lean towards independence and are suspicious of China’s overtures. Mr Ma is presumably not foolish enough to think that kudos from the landmark meeting will give his party, the Kuomintang (KMT), a better chance of holding power. He may instead be thinking of his own political legacy, given that growing domestic opposition to recent cross-strait trade deals has left his and his party’s popularity in tatters. For the KMT, the resonance of the meeting goes back to 1945 when it ruled all of China. In August that year Chiang met Mao for the last time before full-scale civil war erupted. The discussions between Mr Ma and Mr Xi were the first between the two parties’ leaders since then.

Article continues:



On The Line: Simon Ostrovsky Discusses Russian Diplomatic and Military Maneuvers – ViceNews Published on Oct 5, 2015

VICE News journalist Simon Ostrovsky (https://twitter.com/SimonOstrovsky) joined On The Line to discuss the latest news on Russia’s international ambitions.

Watch: The War May Be Over: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 110) – http://bit.ly/1OEn7uV

Watch more Russian Roulette dispatches – http://bit.ly/1NZKiOF

How the Iran Deal Will Pass—and Why It Should – By Fred Kaplan AUG. 27 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu should have held his tongue. Above, the Israeli prime minister speaks during a press conference on Nov. 18, 2014, in Jerusalem. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu should have held his tongue. Above, the Israeli prime minister speaks during a press conference on Nov. 18, 2014, in Jerusalem.
Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

If current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists—mainly AIPAC—are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu—and for Israel—had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been.

If the House and Senate do vote down the deal next month, Obama will impose a veto. To override the veto, his opponents would need to muster a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress. As even many of these opponents admit, they are unlikely to do so. There is even a fair chance that they’ll fall short of the 60 votes needed to block the threat of a Democratic filibuster.

Article continues:

The Scholar as Secretary – Foreign Affairs September/October 2015 Issue

A Conversation With 
Ashton CarterScreen Shot 2015-08-20 at Aug 20, 2015 4.18

Ashton Carter has an unusual background for a secretary of defense. Before assuming the United States’ top military post in February, he studied medieval history and particle physics as an undergraduate at Yale, got a Ph.D. in physics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, and taught international affairs at Harvard. He also served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration and as an undersecretary and then the deputy secretary of defense under President Barack Obama. Since becoming secretary, Carter has displayed an unusual bluntness, openly criticizing Iraq’s military forces and talking tough to adversaries such as China and Russia. In his first full-length print interview since becoming secretary, Carter met with Foreign Affairs managing editor Jonathan Tepperman in his Pentagon office in early July.

You’ve held a lot of jobs in the course of your career. Which best prepared you for your current position?

I would say that what has prepared me best is seeing, over several decades, some of the very best of my predecessors in action. My other previous jobs have been more managerial and in the technology area, which means that I know how things work here.

And all this helps me do the things I’m most intent on doing as secretary of defense. Those are, first of all, taking care of our troops. I learned from all [my predecessors] that I have a tremendous fiduciary duty toward the troops. They’re what I wake up to in the morning.

U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011.
U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011.

The other thing is to help the president make the difficult decisions about our foreign policy and carry out that part of it which involves the weight of the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.

And the last thing I keep uppermost in my mind is the future of this institution and making sure that we continue to have the very best people in our all-volunteer force, that we have the very best technology, and that we continue to have the magnetic power to attract everyone around the world. As I travel around the world, I see that they all want more—more association with us, more contribution from us. And that’s a great tribute to the United States and its values, but also to the performance of this department.

Speaking of that performance, how worried are you about the budget cuts that have been forced on this department by sequestration?

The game of budget chicken that has been going on now in Washington for several years saddens me very greatly, and I have really pleaded with the leadership [in Congress]—and this has to be a bipartisan thing—to come together behind a multiyear budget process. The herky-jerky, on-and-off annual decision-making stops us from spending money efficiently in the way that the taxpayer expects. It means that our troops and their families don’t have a perspective on the future and feel at risk. It gives a misleadingly diminished picture of America around the world, suggesting that we can’t get our act together. It’s at odds with the ability of our partners in the defense industry to have an efficient business strategy and therefore to continue to support us.

As well as being the secretary of defense, I’m also on the National Security Council, and so I can’t be indifferent to the budget woes of the State Department, of the intelligence community, of scientific R & D, and of education. The whole thing hobbles me and the rest of the federal government. I really hope that we can rise above it.

Article continues:


Fidel Castro chides US ahead of embassy reopening – BBC News Aug 14 2014

Venezuelan and Bolivian presidents Nicolas Maduro (left) and Evo Morales (centre) visited Fidel Castro on his birthday

Venezuelan and Bolivian Presidents Nicolas Maduro (left) and Evo Morales (centre) visited Fidel Castro in Cuba on his birthday

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has published an open letter to the nation in which he makes no mention of the historic reopening of the US embassy.

Mr Castro instead criticises American foreign and economic policies since World War Two and accuses the US of owing Cuba millions of dollars.

The letter was published to mark Mr Castro’s 89th birthday.

The US embassy will be reopened in Havana on Friday, with US Secretary of State John Kerry attending.

Mr Castro said the US owed Cuba money because of the trade embargo the US imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo – which it calls a blockade – is hugely damaging to its economy.

It says relations will only be fully restored once it is lifted.

Three marines who lowered the American flag for the last time on 4 January 1961 will raise it again during Friday’s ceremony in Havana.

They are now retired and in their late 70s.

“I’m gonna love seeing that flag go back up,” said former marine Jim Tracy, 78, on a US State Department video.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington last month.

Article continues:



US, Cuba restore full diplomatic relations after five decades – July 20, 2015 12:15AM ET

The US and Cuba on Monday re-established embassies in each other’s capitals in a new era of post-Cold War relationsScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at Jul 20, 2015 1.18

The United States and Cuba formally restored diplomatic ties severed more than 50 years ago on Monday, by re-establishing embassies in each other’s capitals and ushering in a new era of post-Cold War relations.

Just past the stroke of midnight, the two countries reached a new milestone in the historic thaw that began with a breakthrough announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Monday morning will preside over the raising of the Cuban flag for the first time in 54 years over a mansion that will again serve as Havana’s embassy in Washington.

The symbolic event will be followed by a meeting at the State Department between Secretary of State John Kerry and Rodriguez, the first Cuban foreign minister on an official visit to Washington since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

While the Cubans hold their ceremony, the U.S. Embassy in Havana will also reopen. But no American flag will fly there until a visit by Kerry, which is expected next month. “We wanted the secretary to be there to oversee these important events,” a State Department official said.

Differences remain and efforts toward full normalization between the United States and Cuba are expected to proceed slowly. Monday’s steps culminated more than two years of negotiations between governments that had long shunned each other.

More than 500 people, including members of Congress, are expected to attend the Cuban festivities in Washington. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson is scheduled to lead the U.S. delegation.

Kerry and Rodriguez last met in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where Obama and Castro also held talks. Aides see the outreach to Cuba as a boost to Obama’s legacy.

Article continues:



Finger Off the Trigger – By Arlen Jameson and Lisbeth Gronlund July 16, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EDT

We could avoid the disaster.

We could avoid the disaster.

We could avoid the disaster.

Over the past year, Russia’s aggressive military actions and hostile rhetoric have pushed tensions with the United States to the highest level in decades.

Russia has also been brandishing its nuclear forces. President Vladimir Putin recently implied that he had been prepared to bring Russia’s nuclear weapons into play during its invasion of Crimea. In March, when Denmark announced plans to place radars on some of its ships as part of a U.S.-backed missile defense system, Russia’s ambassador to Denmark threatened to target those ships with nuclear weapons. For its part, NATO has let it be known that it plans to re-evaluate its nuclear weapons strategy, and may give nuclear weapons a greater role in its military exercises.

Russia’s nuclear threats are patently irresponsible, as is NATO’s response. After all, it is during times of heightened tension that misunderstandings and mistakes are more likely to happen. And unfortunately, current U.S. and Russian nuclear weapon policies make such problems even more likely.

[See: Editorial Cartoons on Barack Obama ]

The two countries are still living with a short-burning nuclear fuse that dates back to the Cold War; they keep many hundreds of nuclear missiles on high alert, ready to be launched in minutes in response to warning of an incoming attack. This increases the chance of an accidental or unauthorized launch or a deliberate one in response to a false warning. The result would be human, environmental and economic devastation on a global scale.

The United States and Russia maintain their land-based missiles on high alert in the belief that doing so increases deterrence against a first strike by the other country that could destroy these missiles before they could be launched. But their nuclear-armed submarines are invulnerable, and provide a secure deterrent. And whether this strategy ever made sense, it does not today, when an accidental, mistaken or unauthorized launch is more likely than a first strike.

US President Barack Obama (R) meets his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (L)  in Los Cabos, Mexico, on June 18, 2012, during the G20 leaders Summit. Obama met today Putin at a G20 summit to discuss differences over what to do about the bloody conflict in Syria. AFP PHOTO/ RIA-NOVOSTI POOL / ALEXEI NIKOLSKY        (Photo credit should read ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/GettyImages)

This policy puts the U.S. and Russian presidents under extreme time pressure. To launch on warning, they would have only 10 to 15 minutes to decide whether what is reported as an incoming attack is real or not, before giving the order to launch nuclear-armed missiles in retaliation – weapons that cannot be recalled after launch.

History shows that mishaps and close calls have occurred all too frequently. In 1979, the United States scrambled to respond to a large-scale Soviet missile attack, only to find that a U.S. technician had mistakenly inserted a training exercise tape into a computer, simulating an attack. More recently, in 1995, President Boris Yeltsin initiated the procedures to authorize a nuclear attack, after Russian radar operators falsely reported the threatening launch of a U.S. submarine-based ballistic missile. The “missile” was actually a U.S.-Norwegian scientific rocket on a mission to study the aurora borealis.

These and other incidents have demonstrated that missile launch systems, like all complex systems, are fallible. While safeguards can be put in place to reduce the frequency of system failures, they cannot eliminate them. Moreover, cyber threats that did not exist during the Cold War may introduce new system vulnerabilities.

Article continues:


A better way to talk about abortion: Aspen Baker TEDWomen 2015 · 10:58 · Filmed May 2015

Abortion is extremely common. In America, for example, one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, yet the strong emotions sparked by the topic — and the highly politicized rhetoric around it — leave little room for thoughtful, open debate. In this personal, thoughtful talk, Aspen Baker makes the case for being neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice” but rather “pro-voice” — and for the roles that listening and storytelling can play when it comes to discussing difficult topics.

U.S., world powers reach historic deal with Iran – By NAHAL TOOSI and MICHAEL CROWLEY 7/14/15 5:18 AM EDT

The accord follows 18 days of marathon diplomacy in Vienna — and heralds a summer of political blowback at home.

Iran’s Minister for Foriegn Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif shows a piece of a draft of the Nuclear agreement on the balcony of the Palias Coburg in Vienna, Austria 12 July 2015. Many Iranien reporters interepreted this picture to signify an end to nuclear negotiations but the agreement has not been finalised. Photo by: Mehdi Ghassemi/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

The United States and five other world powers have reached a deal with Iran that would place strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for ending sanctions on its economy, the culmination of years of delicate diplomacy managed by President Barack Obama despite warnings the agreement could strengthen Iran’s Islamist regime and leave it dangerously close to a nuclear bomb.

The historic accord, to be unveiled by Secretary of State John Kerry and his international counterparts in Vienna on Tuesday after 18 days of intense negotiations, now faces review from a hostile Republican-led Congress, opposition from every GOP presidential candidate, from Israel’s government and from Sunni Arab monarchs. The deal’s long and complex implementation period also leaves it vulnerable to unraveling .

If it succeeds, the agreement could upgrade President Barack Obama’s checkered foreign policy legacy, as well provide a crowning achievement for Kerry’s 30-year political career. Analysts call it one of the modern era’s most important arms control agreements, in a league with the 1970 international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the START nuclear missile treaty the U.S. signed with the Soviet Union in 1994.

Obama has made the deal a central plank of his foreign policy. Dating from early in the 2008 presidential campaign, he called for fresh thinking toward American adversaries like Iran. As president, he has argued that it is wiser to negotiate with a nemesis of more than three decades than risk a military confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

But he has also insisted, in response to the many critics who called him desperate for a deal, that signing off on a weak agreement is not in his interest. “If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” the president said in May — a measure of just how keenly aware he is of the deal’s implications for his legacy.

The deal came 18 days after Kerry arrived in Vienna for a round of talks whose initial deadline was June 30. As early July came and went, the talks bogged down in a handful of issues, including whether and how to lift a U.N. embargo on Iran’s import and export of conventional arms.

Article continues:



US-Cuba ties: Washington and Havana to announce embassies – BBC News 1 July 2015

Havana skyline (file photo 2009)

There has not been a US embassy in the Cuban capital Havana since the 1960s

The US and Cuba will on Wednesday announce the opening of embassies in each other’s capitals, a major step in re-establishing diplomatic ties severed in 1961, a senior US official has said.

Relations had been frozen since the early 1960s when the US broke links and imposed a trade embargo with the Communist island.

But the US and Cuba agreed to normalise relations at the end of 2014.

The country’s two leaders held historic talks in April.

Since 1977, the US and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called “interests sections” in each other’s capitals under the legal protection of Switzerland. However, they do not enjoy the same status as full embassies.

Another milestone

US officials said President Barack Obama would make a formal announcement from the White House at 15:00 GMT on Wednesday.

It is still not clear exactly what the date will be for opening the embassies, but it is likely to be in mid-July, says the BBC’s Cuba correspondent Will Grant.

The US State Department must give Congress two weeks’ warning before the embassy can open, he adds.

It is the latest major milestone in a thawing process between the two countries’ relations, which started with secret negotiations and was announced last December.

Article continues: