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Iran and Afghanistan - Dec 3

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Obama Adds Troops, but Maps Exit Plan

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Helene Cooper, New York Times
President Obama announced Tuesday that he would speed 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in coming months, but he vowed to start bringing American forces home in the middle of 2011, saying the United States could not afford and should not have to shoulder an open-ended commitment.

Promising that he could “bring this war to a successful conclusion,” Mr. Obama set out a strategy that would seek to reverse Taliban gains in large parts of Afghanistan, better protect the Afghan people, increase the pressure on Afghanistan to build its own military capacity and a more effective government and step up attacks on Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

“America, we are passing through a time of great trial,” Mr. Obama said. “And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.”

The military escalation Mr. Obama described and defended in his speech to a national television audience and 4,000 cadets at the United States Military Academy here, the culmination of a review that lasted three months, could well prove to be the most consequential decision of Mr. Obama’s presidency...
(1 Dec 2009)


Iran vows to expand its nuclear program

Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post
Iran's government will build 10 new sites to enrich uranium, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday, a dramatic expansion of the country's nuclear program and one that is bound to fuel fears that it is attempting to produce a nuclear weapon.

Ahmadinejad told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that construction of at least five nuclear facilities is to begin within two months.

The surprise announcement came two days after a censure of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency over the Islamic republic's refusal to stop enriching uranium, a key demand of Western powers. The 35-member board of the agency also criticized Iran's construction of a second enrichment plant in Qom, southwest of Tehran.

U.S. officials reacted cautiously to the announcement. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Iran's plans, if true, "would be yet another serious violation of Iran's clear obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself."

Less than a year after President Obama pledged to engage Iran, U.S. efforts at rapprochement have yielded little in return, and relations between the sides now appear to be headed toward a more confrontational phase. In a sign of growing hostility toward the West, Iran's parliament on Sunday called on Ahmadinejad's government to reduce ties with the IAEA -- a move that could limit the agency's access to Iranian nuclear sites...
(30 Nov 2009)
related from the New York Times: U.N. Nuclear Agency Calls Iran Inquiry ‘Dead End’and Russia and China Endorse Agency's Rebuke of Iran


A strategy to encourage Afghans and allies alike

Leading article, the Independent
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama drew a sharp but correct distinction between the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The war in Iraq, he said, was wrong and he pledged to end the US military presence there as soon as realistically possible. The war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, he saw as the pursuit of a just cause in defence of US national security that had been neglected by the diversion of forces to Iraq; he undertook to make it a priority of his presidency.

On taking office, Mr Obama swiftly honoured his promise on Iraq; most US troops have been withdrawn to barracks pending their phased return home. Deciding how to bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion has proved much more difficult. An early review of tactics and strategy dragged on. The perception of delay fuelled dissent at home, discontent among the allies, and accusations against Mr Obama that he was "dithering".

As pressure mounted on the US President to make up his mind, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan was continually shifting, with knock-on effects on American and European public opinion. Not only was the Taliban gaining territory, but widespread fraud called into question the validity of the August election and compromised what remained of the authority of President Karzai.

The US President finally set out his decision on Tuesday night, in an address at the US Military Academy at West Point – the same venue where eight and a half years before his predecessor had laid the foundation for the invasion of Iraq, rejecting containment in favour of pre-emption. Aside from a common sense of urgency, however, the two speeches could not have been more different. Where Mr Bush was all confidence and ideological certainty, his successor was coolly reasoned, but sometimes diffident. And where Mr Bush's world revolved around the United States, Mr Obama projected the United States as part of a broader and more variegated global landscape...
(3 Dec 2009)


Iran left out in the cold

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times
A major pillar of United States President Barack Obama's earlier Afghan policy, articulated in a March speech, was missing from his long-awaited address on Tuesday in which he committed an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

Conspicuous by its absence was any reference - apart from Pakistan - of the other stakeholders in the neighborhood, notably Iran.

In his March speech, Obama said, "And finally, together with the United Nations, we will forge a new contact group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region - our NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China."

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has pointed out the need to engage India in deliberations on Afghanistan's future. But the commanding US general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has painted a negative view of India's role in Afghanistan as one "likely to exacerbate regional tensions", perhaps one reason why Obama shrank from mentioning India in his speech. On the other hand, Russia, which has allowed a limited movement of material across its territory into Afghanistan, is now poised to increase its assistance.

With respect to Iran, Obama's decision to avoid any mention of it may have made sense in light of the escalating tensions over the Iran nuclear issue, yet it was hardly a prudent one in terms of Afghanistan's needs. At the April Hague Conference on Afghanistan, where Iran's delegation promised to cooperate with the Obama administration, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly admitted that Iran had a "natural role to play" in light of the "Afghan drug traffic"...
(4 Dec 2009)

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