Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ordinary New Yorkers have good reason to dread “UNGA week” – the five days in September when world leaders descend en masse on New York for the UN General Assembly.

The result is gridlock in Manhattan as the east side of the city, near the UN, is blocked off to allow easier passage for presidential motorcades. On the other hand, the powerful and well-connected can be guaranteed a few good cocktail-party invitations. And interested spectators all over the world can be guaranteed some political theatre. Here is what to look out for this year when the leaders’ speeches get underway on Tuesday: Read more

Philipp Rösler (Getty)

Four years ago your correspondent was treading the streets of Friedrichshain in east Berlin on German election day when an extraordinary number of locals told me they had voted for Germay’s pro-business Free Democratic Party. Read more

After a testing two years for Vladimir Putin that saw the first serious protests against his rule, Russia’s president was back to his relaxed, confident and sometimes acerbic self at an annual meeting with academics and journalists on Thursday.

Though avoiding triumphalism, Mr Putin seemed to bask in his diplomatic success over the plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons. He also appeared to believe the sting had been drawn out of the demonstrations that followed parliamentary elections in December 2011 and his own decision to return for a third term as president. Read more

By David Gallerano

♦ Angela Merkel’s main competitor in Sunday’s election – Peer Steinbrück – is a man prone to gaffes. His party, the SPD, is desperately campaigning in Germany’s industrialised urban centres to mobilise “an estimated 10m” of voters “who have drifted from the party since 1998”.

♦ Hassan Rouhani’s victory in Iran’s recent presidential election and the war in Syria: two developments that “provide reason to think that diplomatic progress” between Tehran and Washington might be possible, according to the New York Review of Books. The first result of this détente – the New York Times says – might be an agreement over Iran’s nuclear programmeRead more

PETER ENDIG/AFP/Getty Images

By Alice Ross
As Germany’s national elections approach on Sunday, what are the core issues that voters are concerned about? Do voters really admire what Angela Merkel has done for the eurozone, or are they more concerned about domestic issues like energy prices or the minimum wage? Read more

A protestor outside the Greek parliament (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

It’s no secret in Athens that austerity-weary Greeks would like to see a grand coalition emerge from Sunday’s elections in Germany. The participation in government of Peer Steinbrück and his Social Democrats, say café pundits, could bring a softening of the “keep-them-on-the-reform-treadmill” approach associated with Angela Merkel’s previous term as chancellor. Read more

It’s no secret that the US is at the centre of global trade. But how is what it trades with the world changing? The US International Trade Commission, the independent government agency which investigates anti-dumping cases in the US and also acts as a trade data clearinghouse, this week put out its annual “Shifts in US Merchandise” report. Here’s four things in the report worth thinking about:

1. Americans love their cars and their iPhones. They were the biggest contributors to the $10bn widening of the US trade deficit in 2012. Read more

By David Gallerano
♦ Ben Bernanke sent “contradictory signals about how the Fed was going to assess the economy”. His is a “confused guidance”, which makes it hard to tell whether the actual policy on tapering is just a pause for the Fed or whether there needs to be clear evidence of acceleration. Michael Mackenzie says the FOMC’s delay of the taper yesterday affects Fed’s credibility.
♦ Syria’s war rages on but Damascus nightclubs remain obstinately open.
♦ The Syrian conflict is spilling over to Iraq with the city of Muqdadiya, in the Diyala Province, becoming the theatre for a “Balkans-style” ethnic conflict with Sunnis supporting the rebels and Shiites backing the Assad government.
♦ The Arabist reports the story of Mohamed Gabr, police chief of a small village in Egypt, who was brutally killed by a group of Islamists.
♦ The United Nations Economic Commission on Africa (UNECA) cancelled Morten Jerven’s presentation of his research “due to lobbying from South African Statistician General Pali Lehohla”. Jerven’s research criticizes several African Statistic institutes and has already raised protests in Zambia and South Africa. Read more

It’s not all bad news from the Middle East. Amid the tragedy in Syria and the bloody repression in Egypt, Iran is providing an unlikely source of hope. A series of official Iranian pronouncements have raised hopes that a nuclear deal might just be possible – after all. The Iranians are clearly on a charm offensive. President Hassan Rouhani – who will be travelling to New York for the UN General Assembly next week – has just given an interview to NBC television, in which he praised a recent letter sent to him by President Obama as “positive and constructive”. There is even talk of a possible Rouhani-Obama meeting next week. Even if that does not happen, you can expect Rouhani to be the star of the show in New York. When President Ahmadi-Nejad went to the UNGA he was treated as a pantomime villain by the Americans and Columbia University was severely criticised for inviting him to speak. By contrast, his successor, President Rouhani, will be the hot ticket at the Council on Foreign Relations next week.

But is all the hype justified? Read more

Is Obama becoming a lame duck?
A week that has seen US president Barack Obama zigzag between diplomacy and military action on Syria and back away from nominating Lawrence Summers as chairman of the Federal Reserve has raised questions about the president’s leadership. Gideon Rachman and Richard McGregor in Washington join Ben Hall to discuss whether the Obama administration has stalled and whether he is in danger of becoming, very prematurely, a lame duck president.

By David Gallerano
♦ Somaliland works to be the gateway to a landlocked Ethiopia and to secure long –awaited international recognition.
♦ Communal violence rises in the highly Christian-populated cities of Southern Egypt.
♦ Quartz reports on how the Iran government retained control of a skyscraper in Manhattan for 35 years.
♦ The New York Times profiles the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov: “One of the most knowledgeable and respected foreign policy actors in the global village”, a veteran diplomat who enjoys whiskey and cigars, Lavrov is the advocate of an international system based on state sovereignty and status quo stability.
♦ Nonetheless, he is no stranger to the use of questionable sources, and few days ago he used a video analysis by a Lebanese nun to contradict claims that Assad has employed chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict.
Turkey becomes Somalia’s largest non-OECD donor while Somalia returns the favour by granting concessions on key national infrastructures.
♦ A new book claims that Hollywood studios collaborated with Hitler and helped to finance the German war machine. Read more

By David Gallerano
♦ Claire Jones outlines how any decision the Federal Reserve will take on tapering has implications far beyond the United States.
♦ Robin Harding takes stock of the situation regarding the nomination of the new Fed chairman. Though it seems the propitious moment for a Yellen selection, there is the chance that the White House might opt for a more thorough selection process. After all, Ben Bernanke’s appointment in 2005 did not come until late October
♦ Meanwhile, John McDermott reproaches Obama for his weak support of Lawrence Summers’ candidacy.
♦ The German elections will pave the way for a third bailout for Greece. How will the Greek economy react? Peter Spiegel outlines the most likely scenario.
♦ The Pacific Standard examines six reasons why Zambia is – and will probably remain for long time – a poor countryRead more

David Cameron

David Cameron addresses the House of Commons during a debate on Syria. Press Association

How much has Britain’s standing in the world been damaged by the House of Commons decision last month to rule out military action against Syria? As the crisis has gone through its numerous twists and turns over the last few weeks, the verdict seems to be constantly changing.

At first, the judgment of many people was that the Commons vote on the night of August 29 was a serious blow for David Cameron’s government. The Commons had overturned the will of the PM. The UK was not standing shoulder-to-shoulder with its US ally. Britain looked like it had badly damaged the much cherished “special relationship” with America. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Viewed from Washington, the Syrian crisis has been only partly about chemical weapons. The other crucial commodity at stake was American “credibility” – that mystical quality on which US and global security is often deemed to depend.

By David Gallerano
♦ Edward Luce argues that Lawrence Summers has done everyone a favour by taking himself out of the running to be the next Fed chair.
♦ Alec Russell interviews Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu and asks him about God, Mandela and Syria.
♦ James Blitz retraces last week’s main events in the Syria crisis, while the Wall Street Journal reports on Barack Obama’s conduct behind the scenes of the Syria crisis.
♦ Shadi Hamid points out that Assad was rewarded rather than punished for his use of chemical weapons.
♦ The New York Times’ Laura Pappano reports on Battishug Myanganbayar, a 16 years-old genius from Ulan Bator, Mongolia. “How does a student from a country in which a third of the population is nomadic, living in round white felt tents called gers on the vast steppe, ace an MIT course even though nothing like this is typically taught in Mongolian schools?”
♦ The Hewitts, a white South African family, left behind their comfortable life and moved to 100-square-foot shack with no electricity or running water. A notable experiment for some – just “poverty pornography” for others.
♦ The Royal Academy presents an exhibition of 200 artworks from the “vast and diverse nation” of AustraliaRead more

ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images

By Catherine Contiguglia and David Gallerano
Russia has been the talk of the town since the announcement by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov of a diplomatic initiative to get Syria to turn over chemical weapons. Then all eyes turned to Russian president Vladimir Putin when his New York Times op-ed appeared, arguing that air strikes could “could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

Here are some of the best articles on the man who has managed to keep a grip on Russian power for over a decade, and his maneuverings around the Syria crisis and beyond. Read more

Not many letters to the FT go viral. But KN Al-Sabah’s pithy explanation of the intricacies of Middle East politics, deservedly garnered a wide audience. It read as follows:

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad. Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood! Read more

♦ Critics argue that new banking regulations merely tinker with existing rules rather than preventing another meltdown. The FT’s banking editor examines the more radical remedies.
♦ Twenty years after the Oslo Accord, the London Review of Books republishes an essay by Edward Said. He called the agreement “an instrument of Palestinian surrender” and said, “There is little in the document to suggest that Israel will give up its violence against Palestinians…”
♦ Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at the New York Times, explains how you commission a piece from Vladimir Putin.
♦ The people censoring Sina Weibo in China are young, underpaid, overstressed – and few of them are women because the job involves constant exposure to offensive material.
♦ Altaf Hussain, the leader of the Muttahida Qaumi movement, loses his grip on his Pakistani political empire as a British murder investigation closes in on him.  Read more

(Sueddeutsche Zeitung)

This is Peer Steinbrück, the man hoping to unseat Angela Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s election on September 22. The most remarkable thing about the image, which adorns the cover of the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Friday magazine, is that the Social Democratic Party campaign leader actually let them go ahead and publish it. Read more

UN arms expert collects samples for investigation into suspected chemical weapons strike (Ammar al-Arbini/AFP/Getty Images)

By Catherine Contiguglia and David Gallerano

The build up to a US military intervention in Syria was suspended when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced a diplomatic initiative to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision. This is something of a reprieve for US president Barack Obama, who was facing mounting pressure to live up to a promised intervention that has little public support and has yet to be approved by either the United Nations or Congress.

Here are some of the best articles from the FT and elsewhere about chemical weapons and their regulation, and what the Russian plan means for the Syria conflict. Read more