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July 30, 2013 at 6:25 AM
After a working dinner Monday night at the State Department, negotiators for Palestine and Israel were scheduled to meet once more on Tuesday before returning home.
They might already be airborne, but the two opening sessions offer hope for a fresh start.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, backed by a majority of his cabinet, was a clear investment of his reputation in a process with a long ways to go. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is taking his own political risks.
The next round of talks is in the Middle East where the popular support for peace is substantial, if not for the details. A Palestinian state next to Israel with negotiated borders and security plans has been a hypothetical possibility for years, but now it is starting to bud.
The tireless work of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is an obvious influence in making these direct talks happen, but the other motivations are not yet apparent. One can predict that domestic politics in Israel play a role, along with the fatigue and expense of a constant state of diplomatic and military tension. Is Netanyahu contemplating his legacy, as some suggest? Given his past rhetoric and actions, there is a Nixon-to-China quality to this effort.
Otherwise, Netanyahu has said tensions elsewhere in the Middle East are pushing these two neighbors to settle their differences. Whatever the incentives, the practical reality of these face-to-face meetings is most encouraging.
July 23, 2013 at 6:20 AM
Optimism is the rarest of commodities in the Middle East, so the heavily qualified and asterisk-dotted scheduled meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Washington, D.C. is potentially, if it happens, maybe, a notable start.
Credit goes to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Certainly the willingness of the two sides to mutter and grumble their way to the negotiating table is key, but Kerry labored to get them into the same room, as detailed in this New York Times story.
He crafted the ground rules, themes, topics and parameters of the discussions that Palestinian and Israeli officials would accept. Yes, the pre-1967 borders would serve as a baseline. Israel will release some Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture, but is almost embarrassed by the act.
What will happen? No one knows, but Kerry has made six trips to the region since March. His visits got extended with multiple meetings with both leaders.
The first round of talks may well be about the topics for the next round of talks. Incremental progress is still progress.
Kerry got things started, and might have a strong hand in orchestrating a historic outcome. Maybe, perhaps, possibly.
April 30, 2013 at 6:10 AM
The charges North Korea filed against Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood last week are “unwarranted,” and he should be released, a U.S. State Department official said Monday.
“These charges, we believe, are completely unwarranted,” said Joseph Y. Yun, the acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.“We really do urge North Korea to release him. There is no reason to hold him.”
As he spoke to a State Department briefing of the Association of Opinion Journalists, Yun hit the right notes about the man who has been in custody almost six months. My colleague Thanh Tan has written editorials urging attention to Bae’s plight. The Times last editorial said: “According to previous news reports, North Korean officials have charged Bae with committing ‘hostile acts against the republic.’ Political experts remain skeptical of the totalitarian state’s true motives. U.S. officials must exhaust diplomatic channels to get to the bottom of this.”
Yun noted that tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, D.C, have been especially heightened given North Korea’s recent nuclear tests and missile launches. The government of North Korea detained Bae last November while he was leading a tour near the border with China. Late last week, The government of North Korea announced it was charging Bae with trying to overthrow the government, according to this report by The Associated Press.
“As you know our consular office is represented by the Embassy of Sweden and they have visited him three or four times already,” Yun told about 20 editorial page editors,writers and columnists. “He should be … released on a humanitarian basis and also lack of substance.”
In a separate press conference a department spokesman said Swedish officials had visited him as recently as Friday.