Middle Eastern foreign policy of the Barack Obama administration


Middle Eastern foreign policy of the Barack Obama administration

For purposes of U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East consists of Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya and Syria.[citation needed]

Contents

Gaza

On February 2, 2009, President Obama signed a memorandum "directing more than $20 million for 'urgent refugee and migration needs" in Gaza." [1] The 2008–2009 Israeli-Gaza Conflict last from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009 when unilateral cease-fires were issued by both the Israeli government and Hamas. This cease-fire was shortly lived and sporadic fighting and attacks would continue to occur into the Obama administration.[citation needed] Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on January 21, 2009, one day after Obama was sworn in as President.[2] $900 million was pledged from Hillary Clinton to help the rebuilding process in Gaza.[3] This was criticized by Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers' Alliance and Barbara Crook of the pro-Israel Palestinian Media Watch, who claim that the money will be used to promote terrorism and teach Palestinians to hate non-Muslims and oppose the existence of Israel.[4]

On June 4, 2009, in a speech addressing Muslims in Cairo, Egypt, President Obama said, "Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed." He cited the African American civil rights movement, the Indonesian Revolution of 1998, and the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa as historical examples of successful nonviolent uprisings to end social, racial, and political injustice and added, apparently in reference to several infamous terrorist attacks by Palestinian organizations, "It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered."[5] Reacting to the speech, Hamas senior adviser Ahmed Yousef expressed wary approval, telling the pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, "The things he said about Islam and the Palestinian suffering and their right to have a state is great. It is a landmark and a breakthrough speech. But when it comes to legitimacy of the Israeli right to exist [there are issues]. He knows the Palestinians have to have their own state before recognizing another."[6] "[A]ll we can say is that there is a difference in the statements [from those of former U.S. President George W. Bush], and the statements of today did not include a mechanism that can translate his wishes and views into actions," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.[7]

Iran

Vice President Biden, in a speech given on Saturday, February 7, 2009 at the 2009 Munich Conference outlined U.S. foreign policy towards Iran by saying that the U.S. is "willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon your illicit nuclear program and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives." He also referred to the Iranian people as "a great people" and the said that the "Persian civilization is a great civilization. But Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its people; its illicit nuclear program is but one manifestation."[8]

On February 7, 2009, while attending the Munich Conference, Speaker of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani is reported by the Tehran Times as saying “The West should understand that the Iranian people are not a second grade nation,” [9]

On February 8, 2009, one day after Biden's speech at the Munich Conference, Larijani said "We are ready to talk without pre-conditions. But for that, we need a real starting point... If the Americans are really willing to resolve the problems, then they must present their concept." [10] Larijani also provided a list of Iranian grievances against the United States including a U.S.-backed coup d'état in 1953, a decision to freeze Iranian assets following the 1979 Iranian revolution, support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980–1988 referring to these as "the burnt bridges between Iran and America." [11] He also referred to Obama's decision to send an envoy to the Middle East to "listen to people and not to dictate" as a "positive signal." [12]

When asked, on February 9, 2009, whether Iran was open to direct discussion of its nuclear program with the United States, Larijani stated that "It depends on the circumstances and the benefits of having that conversation," and "We don't want to be taken advantage of. But we're not against constructive dialogue." [13] Larijani also stated that "This is an exceptional opportunity for the Americans" adding that if the United States eased embargoes against Iran, it would be considered a positive step even though he believed "the window of opportunity is the narrowest possible, they could change their strategy." [13]

Obama reaffirmed on February 9, 2009 that the United States was reviewing its policy towards Iran and that the administration was also looking for opportunities for "face to face" talks with Iran [13] while Larijani called on the United States, on February 9, 2009, to present a clear proposal to Iran and stated that Iran doesn't "negotiate for the sake of negotiating" but would instead negotiate to reach a "definitive solution." He also said that Iran would need to believe that there was a "firm decision to solve the problems of the region" and that the United States was seeking a "strategic" and not a "tactical" change in its policy.[14]

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, on February 10, 2009, stated that Iran was open to direct talks with the United States going so far as to say "The Iranian nation is prepared to talk. However, these talks should be held in a fair atmosphere in which there is mutual respect." [15] On February 11, 2009, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said "If the American administration wants to keep up with the changes, this will be happy news" while Hassan Qashqavi, of the Foreign Ministry, said that Iran was "inclined to logic, talks and consideration" and that "We do not wish that Mr Obama misses the opportunity with us if he really is after bringing about serious changes in his policies," he said. "That is why we would not pre-empt him and make no prejudgement in this connection." [16]

On March 1, 2009, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that U.S. officials believe Iran possesses enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. He characterized the effect that Iran's nuclear armament would have on the region and world as "very, very bad".[17] Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicted Mullen, however, saying, "They're not close to having a stockpile, they're not close to having a weapon at this point, and so there is some time" to attempt to avoid that outcome.[18]

On March 5, 2009, Clinton attended the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.[19] At this meeting, Clinton proposed including Iran at a conference on Afghanistan. Clinton said the proposed conference could be held on March 31 in the Netherlands.[20]

Obama reached out to the Iranian leaders and people in a speech in April 2009 when he released a video for the Iranian New Year, Nowruz. In it he outlined his views about American-Iranian Relations and addressed several key issues including the nuclear ambitions of Iran and Iran's role in fighting terrorism.[citation needed]

In a widely publicized speech addressing Muslims in Cairo, Egypt, on June 4, 2009, President Obama reached out to Iran, admitting that the U.S. "played a role" in the Cold War-era coup against the democratically elected Iranian government and saying, "There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect." He also affirmed his administration's position that Iran has the right to seek nuclear power, but warned that seeking nuclear weapons "could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path," adding that he supported nuclear disarmament.[21]

The 2009 Iranian presidential election was held on June 12, 2009. Candidates included Ahmadinejad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the former Prime Minister of Iran, and Mehdi Karroubi, a former Speaker of the Iranian Parliament. There are reports that the upcoming election had influenced deliberations about the "timing for potential Iran Talks." [22] Following the 2009 Iranian election protests Obama said: "'In 2009 no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice. Despite the Iranian government's efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we have watched what the Iranian people are doing." He also noted that "'This is not about the United States and the West. This is about the people of Iran, and the future that they - and only they - will choose'" [1]

Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 on July, 1 2010 to expand sanctions on Iran

Iraq

In February 2009, President Obama named Christopher R. Hill as the incoming U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, replacing the previous Bush-appointee Ryan Crocker, who had been in the post nearly two years.[23] During the first few months Obama was Commander in Chief of the United States Military, it charged and convicted U.S. soldier Clifford Cornell of desertion, and sentenced him to one year in prison for refusing to participate in the Iraq War.[24] The charge occurred February 23, 2009, (in Obama's second month),[25][26] and the conviction occurred April 24, 2009.[24]

On February 27, 2009, at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Obama announced a deadline for the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. According to the president, by August 31, 2010, after nearly seven and a half years of United States military engagement in Iraq, all but a "transitional force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops will be withdrawn from the Middle Eastern nation. Obama defined the task of the transitional force as "training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq".[27] Under this plan, the majority of troops will be withdrawn over a year before the deadline in the signed agreement between former President George W. Bush and Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki.[28][29][30] On August 31, 2010, Obama announced in his Oval Office address that the United States combat mission in Iraq was over.

Israel

Obama meets with leaders of major American Jewish Organizations, including Malcolm Hoenlein, March 1, 2011

Before and after the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, some Jews, including United States Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut,[31] questioned Obama's commitment to Israeli security.[32][33] Obama maintained that he supports Israel and said he would continue the U.S. alliance with Israel as president.[34][35][36] The Democratic candidate ultimately carried the state of Florida, with its large Jewish population, in the general election, signaling that his efforts to assuage the concerns of Israeli partisans had been at least moderately successful.[37][38]

In January 2009, then-President-elect Obama expressed "concern" over heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but said he would leave it to the outgoing Bush administration to express the official U.S. position on the conflict.[39] Obama was criticized by voices on both the left[40][41][42] and the right[43] for his reluctance to speak out about the Gazan conflict.

In March 2009, Obama appointee and ally Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled as Secretary of State to Israel.[44] She warned that Israeli settlements and demolition of Arab homes in East Jerusalem were "unhelpful" to the peace process.[45] Clinton also voiced support for the establishment of a Palestinian state—a solution supported by Israeli Foreign Minister and opposition leader-to-be Tzipi Livni, but not endorsed by Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu,[46] with whom she had earlier pledged the United States' cooperation.[47]

The Obama administration has repeatedly pressured the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.[48] "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," the American president said in Cairo in a June 4, 2009, speech to Muslims. "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." In the same speech, Obama sharply rebuked Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism, saying of the Holocaust, "Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful." Obama added, "Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."[5]

Libya

After initial skepticism of international involvement to prevent Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi from using violence to suppress popular demonstrations in his country,[49] the Obama administration crucially backed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 to create a Libyan no-fly zone, with United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice successfully pushing to include language allowing the UN mandate free rein to launch air attacks on Libyan ground targets threatening civilians.[50]

In March 2011, Obama authorized the firing of 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles against targets in Libya, in response to regime actions against rebel forces, to enforce the UN no-fly zone.[51] Controversy arose over whether Obama's use of military force without prior congressional approval was constitutional, with comments by Yale law professor Jack M. Balkin[52] and Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald.[53]

Syria

Although the U.S. recalled its ambassador to Syria in 2005, according to United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Obama administration is reconsidering its relations with the country, which the George W. Bush administration repeatedly accused of sponsoring terrorism during its eight-year tenure. On March 3, 2009, Clinton said the U.S. would "soon" dispatch two envoys to Syria to feel out the situation.[54] On February 16, 2010, President Obama nominated career diplomat and former United States Ambassador to Algeria Robert Ford to be the first United States Ambassador to Syria since 2005.[55]

President Obama sent Special Envoy for Middle East peace George Mitchell on a 8-day tour of the Middle East starting on January 26, 2009 in which Mitchell met with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Israeli army chief of staff Lt. General Gabi Ashkenaz to discuss the peace process along with other with stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and Britain where he met with various leaders.[citation needed]

Special Envoy for Middle East peace George Mitchell after holding talks in Ramallah with Palestinian President Abbas who is leader of Fatah which is at odds with Hamas, stated "To be successful in preventing the illicit traffic of arms into Gaza there must be a mechanism to allow the flow of legal goods, and that should be with the participation of the Palestinian Authority." Obama has also stated that "lasting peace requires more than a long cease-fire, and that's why I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security." [56]

References

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