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News in Brief: 9 April 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Washington to join international talks with Iran “from now on”. The United States today announced that it would join international talks with Iran on its nuclear program. The announcement came at the conclusion of meetings in London Wednesday of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1). The international group said it would extend an invitation to Iran to participate in future talks. (The Cable)

Kazakhstan: Is Astana Aiming to Broker US-Iran Nuclear Deal? Kazakhstan is trying to develop a diplomatic initiative that could both cement Astana’s role as an important geopolitical player and defuse one of the world’s most vexing dilemmas — the matter of Iran’s nuclear program. If successful, Kazakhstan would emerge as a global repository for nuclear fuel. (Eurasianet)

Obama may cede Iran’s nuclear rights. Going far beyond previous policies of mindless containment, the Barack Obama administration plans to ease the standoff on Iran’s nuclear program – and stage a comeback in Central Asia – by offering Tehran access to a global nuclear fuel bank in Kazakhstan. Tehran has welcomed the strategy, and the likely involvement of Japan serves up other geopolitical dimensions favorable to the United States. Moscow is less enthusiastic. (Asia Times)

The Nexus of Economy, Diplomacy, and Reform. The winds of change coming out of Washington have rekindled talk of liberalization and reform in Damascus. The Obama administration’s abandonment of a regime change approach to Syria has emboldened officials in Damascus to speak out about economic vulnerabilities—and the impact of U.S. sanctions—with refreshing candor. Long delayed economic reforms, particularly the launching of Damascus’s stock exchange, have been pushed through. President Assad has also promised to put political liberalization back on his agenda because he no longer believes Western powers seek to destabilize Syria. (Arab Reform Bulletin / Carnegie…)

Holbrooke reaches out to Hekmatyar. The recent meeting between a deputy of Richard Holbrooke, the United States special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an emissary of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), is by all accounts a landmark move in the United States’ stated aim of involving militant groups in ending the conflict in Afghanistan. (Asia Times)

Ankara faces delicate test over fate of ties with Azerbaijan. Turkey’s efforts to mend fences with neighboring Armenia received a major boost when US President Barack Obama threw his weight behind the ongoing talks between diplomats of the two countries, but the process now poses a danger that neither Ankara nor Washington can dare to overlook: losing Azerbaijan. (Today’s Zaman)

Russia warns U.S. against competition for allies. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States and Russia should not force former Soviet republics to choose between an alliance with Washington and Moscow, RIA news agency reported on Thursday. (Hurriyet)

Alleged Hizbullah Cell In Egypt Accused Of Gaza Arms Smuggling. Forty-nine suspected Hizbullah agents arrested in Egypt Wednesday are also accused of smuggling weapons to Hamas in Gaza. The Egyptian attorney-general accused the 49 of planning “hostile operations.” Tensions have been high between Egypt and Hizbullah since the group criticized Egypt for not doing more to stop the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead three in Gaza Strip in December. (Turkish Weekly / Jerusalem Post)

‘Jerusalem should be capital for the Palestinians and Israel’. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Thursday expressed his country’s opposition to the demolition of Palestinian houses in Jerusalem, saying the city should be the capital of both Israel and the future Palestinian state. (Haaretz)

12 Palestinians wounded as Israeli settlers go on rampage. Twelve Palestinians were wounded Wednesday when clashes erupted in a West Bank village after Israeli residents of a nearby settlement went on a rampage there, witnesses and medics said. The injured all suffered gunshot wounds and one was in grave condition, medics said. (The Daily Star / AFP)

Israeli settlers expelling Arabs from East Jerusalem homes. Orthodox Israeli settlers, backed by soldiers and police, attacked Palestinian residents of the Sadiyya neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem Sunday evening, four days after the settler group invaded the home of the Jabir family and extra-judicially evicted them. (The Daily Star / IPS)

Georgian protesters demand Saakashvili resign. Some 40,000 Georgians rallied on Thursday at the start of a campaign to force President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign, an effort led by opponents emboldened by last year’s disastrous war with Russia. (Ynet / Reuters)

Tajikistan: Is Dushanbe Starting an Information War with Moscow? As its economy sinks and social tensions portend a summer of discontent, several mass media outlets in Tajikistan are busy identifying culprits for the Central Asian nation’s problems. By all appearances, the chief scapegoat is shaping up to be Russia. Local newspapers recently have blamed the Kremlin for everything from stoking the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan to drug trafficking, economic woes and even a possible future coup d’etat. (Eurasianet)

The prospect of Turkey joining the European Union was condemned as ‘near insane’ as a row accidentally sparked by President Obama rumbled on. The US President, on the last leg of his first European trip since inauguration, made clear he backed Turkey as an EU member state, not least to as a positive message to the Muslim world. That prompted Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, to repeat his resistance to the idea, while Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said close ties with Ankara did not necessarily mean full membership of the EU club. (Telegraph)

U.S. Destroyer Reaches Scene of Pirate Attack off Horn of Africa. An American warship early Thursday reached the scene of a Somali pirate attack on a U.S.-operated container ship, according to U.S. officials, who said the pirates fled with the captain while the unarmed American crew regained control of its ship. (Washington Post)

Gazprom sees gas demand, output depressed for 5 yrs. Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom believes global demand and it own gas production will be depressed by around 10 percent for the next 4-5 years, its deputy chief executive said on Thursday. Gazprom sees its position in Europe declining by 2020 as it focuses on liquefied natural gas exports and deliveries to Asia, he said. (Reuters)

Sands shift in Iranian elections. The shock exit of Iran’s former reformist president Mohammad Khatami from Iran’s upcoming presidential vote seemed to assure President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s re- election. After all, Ahmadinejad has outsmarted America on multiple fronts and expanded Tehran’s influence across the region. But by standing aside for a more popular reformist with flawless revolutionary credentials, Khatami has actually put the outcome in doubt. (Asia Times)

A Questionable Appointment for Near East. The White House formally announced the nomination of Jeffrey Feltman to serve as the next Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, an appointment that raises new questions about whether the Obama administration’s rhetoric of change in U.S. policy to the region will be matched by actions. (Jim Lobe)

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