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THE INDEX — June 3, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced significant pressure on Tuesday to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba and to lift the 47-year ban on the communist nation’s entry into the Organization of American States (OAS). With El Salvador being the last to do so upon the inauguration of its new president this past Monday, the United States remains the only country in the hemisphere that has not completely opened its diplomatic channels with Cuba. At the annual OAS assembly in Honduras this week, Latin American leaders said that opening the group to Cuba (despite Havana’s repeated claims that it is not interested in joining) would indicate some leniency on Washington's part. But leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega still had some harsh words, saying, "The OAS has been, since its creation in 1948, an instrument of U.S. domination on Latin America and the Caribbean.” These attacks come despite significant progress in U.S.-Cuban relations during the first months of the Obama administration. On Sunday, Cuban leaders agreed to open talks with the State Department over migration issues and direct postal service, this after President Obama lifted restrictions on remittances and travel for Cuban-Americans a few months ago. But Clinton left Honduras on Wednesday without reaching a deal on Cuba’s reentry into the OAS, indicating that an agreement would not be likely until Cuba agrees to democratic reforms in line with the other member states. Read more from World Policy Journal: William LeoGrande's Engaging Cuba: A Roadmap. Five people have been killed in an arson attack in Zahedan, Iran, just four days after a bombing of a Shiite mosque in the same city killed 25 civilians. Dozens of others were wounded as the blaze consumed the office of a local subsidiary of Iran’s Mehr Financial and Credit Institute. The attack also comes two days after the Iranian government swiftly hanged the three suspected terrorists who orchestrated the mosque bombing in the Sistan-Baluchestan province. Although Pakistani-Sunni group Jundullah (Soldiers of God) claimed responsibility for the mosque attack, Jalal Sayeh, the deputy governor of the province, said that the bomb was planned by the United States, a claim denied by the State Department in the “strongest terms possible.” Zahedan, home to many of Iran's minority Sunnis, borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and lies on a major narcotics-smuggling route between those nations. Both attacks are seen as attempts to destabilize the region through Sunni-Shiite infighting ahead of the Iranian national elections on June 12.

Somali defense minister Mohammed Abdi Gandi said on Tuesday that his Western-backed government has made significant progress in checking the Islamic insurgency that began early last month. Aided by African Union peacekeeping forces (who at times have been more of a burden than a blessing), Somali troops claim they have secured 14 of the 16 neighborhoods of Mogadishu, the capital, and have taken new positions in the city as late as Wednesday morning. But conflicting reports that emerged in recent days call into question the true extent of the stability. Islamic Party leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys claims that his soldiers have been fighting in coalition with those of Al Shabab, an extremist Islamic group backed by Al Qaeda.  Although Al Shabab leaders did not provide comment, an alliance between the groups could provide the insurgents with enough political capital to create an opposition government with sustained civilian support. Such support has eluded almost every coalition that has attempted to govern Somalia over the last 18 years. The two insurgent groups have already internationalized their cause, as more than 400 Islamic fighters (coming from as far away as Afghanistan) have arrived in Somalia since early May.

On Monday, Iraq's self-governing Kurdish region celebrated its first oil exports in over 20 years. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) organized a lavish ceremony that contrasted with the failure of the Arab-Shiite central government in Baghdad to increase oil output throughout Iraq. The Taq Taq and Tawke oil fields, financed by Canadian, Turkish, and Norwegian developers, will begin exporting 100,000 barrels of oil per day (BPD) and are expected to reach 1 million BPD by the end of 2012. At the ceremony, KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami boasted that, "[the Kurds] are a successful example for the rest of Iraq." But Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told Al-Hurra Television that the KRG's oil deals are illegal, "completed secretly, not competitively," and neglect the interest of the Iraqi people, "who own this wealth." The ownership of the oil fields is disputed by Kurds, Arabs, and ethnic Turkmen. The first Kurdish oil exports come at a moment of widespread criticism in Iraq of Shahristani, who has presided over a 2.3 million BPD drop in output since the 2003 U.S. invasion. Read more from World Policy Journal: Kamil Mahdi's Iraq's Oil Law: Parsing the Fine Print

 

 

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