John Kerry

By Gideon Rachman
Any western leader negotiating over the fate of smaller countries in central or eastern Europe does so in the shadow of two bitter historical experiences: the Munich agreement of 1938 and the Yalta agreement of 1945. At Munich, the British and the French agreed to Adolf Hitler’s demands for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia – without the participation of the Czech government, which was not represented at the talks. At Yalta, the British and the Americans made a deal with Josef Stalin that, de facto, accepted Soviet domination over postwar Poland and other countries under Russian occupation – again, without the participation of those concerned.

Gideon Rachman

Israel has enjoyed a quiet few years. No wars, no intifada, no increase in the international pressure on the Israeli state – and a strong economy. With the rest of the Middle East in flames, it has been hard to make the traditional argument that the Israeli-Palestinian question is the key to solving all other issues – or to argue that the plight of the Palestinians is the most urgent human-rights priority in the region.

But Israel’s quiet times may be about to end. The Scarlett Johansson controversy is just one part of it – the less important part, in fact. The other really significant element is that John Kerry seems to be about to launch his peace plan. When Kerry does that it will put Israel on the spot and may split its government. And if and when the talks fail (as I’m afraid, they surely will), Israel is likely to get a lot of the blame. The country will be back in the spotlight – and not in a good way. 

By Gideon Rachman
I executed a personal pivot to Asia this year, with separate trips to South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China (twice). There was certainly plenty to write about – new leadership in China, Abenomics in Japan, Sino-Japanese confrontation, nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. Yet, on more than one occasion, I found myself sitting in a hotel room in East Asia – but writing about the Middle East.

By Luisa Frey
♦ Typhoon Haiyan should remind us of something basic: the Philippines remains an extremely poor country, says David Pilling.
♦ Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s requirement that online information concerning citizens to be kept within the country sparks furore, writes the FT’s Brazil correspondent Joseph Leahy.
The EU is trying to gather six former Soviet states in its Eastern Partnership programme. Ukraine, the centre of attention, could face Russia’s retaliation if joining.
♦ In an Iran hobbled by sanctions, organization Setad provides an independence source of revenue and patronage for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reports Reuters.
♦ John Kerry’s Saturday-night meeting with his counterpart Laurent Fabius was a late turning point in three days of intense talks about a deal on nuclear Iran, according to The Guardian.
♦ In China, dozens of couples travelled to the birthplace of Mao Zedong to participate in a collective wedding. This comes amid growing divisions over how to define Mao’s legacy ahead of the 120th anniversary of his birth, reports Sinosphere, The New York Times’ China blog.
♦ The mystery surrounding recently discovered masterpieces stolen by the Nazis reveals much about Germany’s attempt to deal with its past, writes Spiegel Online. 

By Sally Davies
♦ Qatar looks set to strike a more conciliatory tone in the Middle East, after ruffling feathers with its support of Islamists in Egypt and the rebels in Syria, writes Simeon Kerr in the FT.
♦ Across the gulf, Iran is suffering under anti-nuclear sanctions. James Blitz looks at the prospects for a deal ahead of U.S. secretary of state John Kerry’s much-hyped meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, while Geoff Dyer says Obama has come full circle on Middle East diplomacy.
♦ The Obama doctrine: the president is absorbing some tough lessons from the international conflicts he’s observed – and intervened in – over the last five years, writes David Sanger in the New York Times.
♦ Amway is funding a Harvard scholarship to schmooze bigwigs in the Chinese Communist Party. It seems to be working: the household-goods chain has more than quadrupled its sales in China since the program began.
♦ Christine Lagarde examines how women’s under-participation in the workforce hobbles economic growth, on the back of an IMF report.
♦ The haunted house that gave even China’s Red Guards the spooks

By David Gallerano
♦ “We cannot rebuild this economy on this same pile of sand”, President Obama said in April 2009. Robin Harding analyses the rebalancing process of the American economy and draws an alarming conclusion: the United States is building again on the same foundations of sand.
♦ The notorious gang rape of December 2012 in New Delhi is changing the way Indian women react to sexual abuses and violence.
♦ Triton Foundation gets $24m in insurance while a farcical trial goes on in Romania: the brand new episodes of the incredible saga of the paintings stolen from the Kunstahl Museum in Rotterdam.
♦ The New York Times illustrates in detail the long process that led Vladimir Putin to make his proposal on Assad’s chemical weapons.
♦ Meanwhile, satirical news site the Onion reports on how the US arms industry reacted to John Kerry’s declaration: “our Secretary of State had to run his big fat mouth about options for averting war, and now we’re out hundreds of billions of dollars”. But Lockheed’s CEO Marilyn Hewson is reassuring: “He will probably say something idiotic in the near future that would lead to another lucrative international conflict”. 

Gideon Rachman

Ever since the chemical weapons attack in Syria, I have assumed that there would have to be a western military response – and that’s still my view. But I must admit that some US efforts to sell the idea have been so ham-fisted that they are having the opposite effect on me, increasing my doubts. I was particularly alarmed to hear John Kerry describe the Syrian crisis as “our Munich moment”. Munich is one of the most over-used and abused analogies in the making of foreign policy. Almost every western foreign-policy disaster since 1945 – from Suez to Vietnam to Iraq – has been preceded by some idiot saying that this is Munich. 

By James Blitz and Barney Thompson

On Friday, John Kerry, US secretary of state, published the American intelligence agencies’ assessment of why the regime of Bashar al-Assad was culpable for last week’s chemical attack in eastern Damascus. The document was considerably more detailed than the much shorter assessment published by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

This difference is certain to lead to questions in Britain as to why David Cameron,UK prime minister, was unable to paint a more detailed picture of the Assad regime’s culpability. Some commentators are already arguing that if he had been able to do so, he may have been in a better position to persuade parliament of the merits of military action.

The UK frequently refers to the close collaboration on intelligence matters which it enjoys with the US. But the difference in detail between the two documents is striking.

Casualties

The UK document says that there was “little serious dispute” that the chemical attacks caused mass casualties on a large scale “including, we judge, at least 350 fatalities.”

The US document said a “preliminary US government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children.” 

Dreamstime

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for two days of talks in Washington this week to discuss restarting the peace talks that collapsed in 2008. US secretary of state John Kerry said that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have set themselves a goal of reaching a “final status” agreement within nine months.

We’ve put together a potted history of the peace process and writing on the talks to show why an agreement to talk, incremental though it sounds, is still a big deal. 

By Catherine Contiguglia

♦ Civil activism in China is becoming a force the Chinese government can no longer ignore as activists increasingly unite to rally with broader demands, largely through the growing platform of social media.
♦ Following the initial applause for getting Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table for the first time in four years, US secretary of state John Kerry is facing deep scepticism about the two-day talks in Washington D.C.
♦ Borzou Daragahi argues that in the wake of Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in Egypt, Islamists should investigate their own role in contributing to the tensions in the years leading up to the coup.
Alexei Navalny is hitting the streets “western-style” to revamp his mayoral campaign in Moscow six weeks before the vote.
♦ France’s culture minister Aurélie Filippetti has survived a tough first year in office, representing her party by bringing “extravagant” French culture to the level of the people, while still fighting for France’s “cultural exception.”