Foreign Policy

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  Court Backs Texas In Dispute With BushMarch 25, 2008 08:36 President Bush overstepped his authority when he ordered a Texas court to reopen the case of a Mexican on death row for rape and murder, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.

In a case that mixes presidential power, international relations and the death penalty, the court sided with Texas 6-3.

Bush was in the unusual position of siding with death row prisoner Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican citizen whom police prevented from consulting with Mexican diplomats, as provided by international treaty.

An international court ruled in 2004 that the convictions of Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on death row around the United States violated the 1963 Vienna Convention, which provides that people arrested abroad should have access to their home country's consular officials. The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, said the Mexican prisoners should have new court hearings to determine whether the violation affected their cases.

Bush, who oversaw 152 executions as Texas governor, disagreed with the decision. But he said it must be carried out by state courts because the United States had agreed to abide by the world court's rulings in such cases. The administration argued that the president's declaration is reason enough for Texas to grant Medellin a new hearing.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, disagreed. Roberts said the international court decision cannot be forced upon the states.

The president may not "establish binding rules of decision that pre-empt contrary state law," Roberts said. Neither does the treaty, by itself, require individual states to take action, he said.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

The international court judgment should be enforced, Breyer wrote. "The nation may well break its word even though the president seeks to live up to that word," he said.

Justice John Paul Stevens, while agreeing with the outcome of the case, said nothing prevents Texas from giving Medellin another hearing even though it is not compelled to do so.

"Texas' duty in this respect is all the greater since it was Texas that — by failing to provide consular notice in accordance with the Vienna Convention — ensnared the United States in the current controversy," Stevens said.
  Rice Urges China To Change Tibet PolicyMarch 24, 2008 12:39 Secretary Rice is calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict between protesters and Chinese authorities, and she says the Dalai Lama could help.

"We believe that the Dalai Lama could play a very favorable role, given his belief in nonviolence, given his stated position that he does not seek political independence for Tibet, and given his unassailable, authoritative moral stature, not just with the people of Tibet, but with people from around the world," she said.

After meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee at the State Department early Monday, Rice told reporters the use of violence in the Tibet conflict is unacceptable, and that China should consider a more sustainable policy in the region.

Mukherjee agreed that the Dalai Lama's involvement in negotiations could be helpful. The Indian foreign minister also said the estimated 180,000 Tibetans living in India are free to practice their religion as they wish, but he warned that they should not take part in political activities in India.

"They can carry on their religious, cultural and spiritual activities, but as per our law, they are not entitled to carry on any political activities, as Indian citizens also cannot carry on any political activities which are inimical to any friendly countries, or which can destroy the relationship between India and any other country," he said.

The Tibetan government-in-exile, based in India, says 130 people have been killed in the fighting. The Chinese government's official death toll is 19. World leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, are urging a peaceful resolution of the situation in Tibet.
  6 Signs The U.S. May Be Headed For War In IranMarch 11, 2008 21:01 Is the United States moving toward military action with Iran?

The resignation of the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East is setting off alarms that the Bush administration is intent on using military force to stop Iran's moves toward gaining nuclear weapons. In announcing his sudden resignation today following a report on his views in Esquire, Adm. William Fallon didn't directly deny that he differs with President Bush over at least some aspects of the president's policy on Iran. For his part, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it is "ridiculous" to think that the departure of Fallon -- whose Central Command has been working on contingency plans for strikes on Iran as well as overseeing Iraq -- signals that the United States is planning to go to war with Iran.

Fallon's resignation, ending a 41-year Navy career, has reignited the buzz of speculation over what the Bush administration intends to do given that its troubled, sluggish diplomatic effort has failed to slow Iran's nuclear advances. Those activities include the advancing process of uranium enrichment, a key step to producing the material necessary to fuel a bomb, though the Iranians assert the work is to produce nuclear fuel for civilian power reactors, not weapons.

Here are six developments that may have Iran as a common thread. And, if it comes to war, they may be seen as clues as to what was planned. None of them is conclusive, and each has a credible non-Iran related explanation:

1. Fallon's resignation: With the Army fully engaged in Iraq, much of the contingency planning for possible military action has fallen to the Navy, which has looked at the use of carrier-based warplanes and sea-launched missiles as the weapons to destroy Iran's air defenses and nuclear infrastructure. Centcom commands the U.S. naval forces in and near the Persian Gulf. In the aftermath of the problems with the Iraq war, there has been much discussion within the military that senior military officers should have resigned at the time when they disagreed with the White House.

2. Vice President Cheney's peace trip: Cheney, who is seen as a leading hawk on Iran, is going on what is described as a Mideast trip to try to give a boost to stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But he has also scheduled two other stops: One, Oman, is a key military ally and logistics hub for military operations in the Persian Gulf. It also faces Iran across the narrow, vital Strait of Hormuz, the vulnerable oil transit chokepoint into and out of the Persian Gulf that Iran has threatened to blockade in the event of war. Cheney is also going to Saudi Arabia, whose support would be sought before any military action given its ability to increase oil supplies if Iran's oil is cut off. Back in March 2002, Cheney made a high-profile Mideast trip to Saudi Arabia and other nations that officials said at the time was about diplomacy toward Iraq and not war, which began a year later.

3. Israeli airstrike on Syria: Israel's airstrike deep in Syria last October was reported to have targeted a nuclear-related facility, but details have remained sketchy and some experts have been skeptical that Syria had a covert nuclear program. An alternative scenario floating in Israel and Lebanon is that the real purpose of the strike was to force Syria to switch on the targeting electronics for newly received Russian anti-aircraft defenses. The location of the strike is seen as on a likely flight path to Iran (also crossing the friendly Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq), and knowing the electronic signatures of the defensive systems is necessary to reduce the risks for warplanes heading to targets in Iran.

4. Warships off Lebanon: Two U.S. warships took up positions off Lebanon earlier this month, replacing the USS Cole. The deployment was said to signal U.S. concern over the political stalemate in Lebanon and the influence of Syria in that country. But the United States also would want its warships in the eastern Mediterranean in the event of military action against Iran to keep Iranian ally Syria in check and to help provide air cover to Israel against Iranian missile reprisals. One of the newly deployed ships, the USS Ross, is an Aegis guided missile destroyer, a top system for defense against air attacks.

5. Israeli comments: Israeli President Shimon Peres said earlier this month that Israel will not consider unilateral action to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. In the past, though, Israeli officials have quite consistently said they were prepared to act alone -- if that becomes necessary -- to ensure that Iran does not cross a nuclear weapons threshold. Was Peres speaking for himself, or has President Bush given the Israelis an assurance that they won't have to act alone?

6.Israel's war with Hezbollah: While this seems a bit old, Israel's July 2006 war in Lebanon against Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces was seen at the time as a step that Israel would want to take if it anticipated a clash with Iran. The radical Shiite group is seen not only as a threat on it own but also as a possible Iranian surrogate force in the event of war with Iran. So it was important for Israel to push Hezbollah forces back from their positions on Lebanon's border with Israel and to do enough damage to Hezbollah's Iranian-supplied arsenals to reduce its capabilities. Since then, Hezbollah has been able to rearm, though a United Nations force polices a border area buffer zone in southern Lebanon.

Defense Secretary Gates said that Fallon, 63, asked for permission to retire. Gates said that the decision, effective March 31, was entirely Fallon's and that Gates believed it was "the right thing to do." In Esquire, an article on Fallon portrayed him as opposed to President Bush's Iran policy and said he was a lone voice against taking military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program. In his statement, Fallon said he agreed with the president's "policy objectives" but was silent on whether he opposed aspects of the president's plans. "Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president's policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the Centcom region," Fallon, said in the statement issued by Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
  Fuel Prices Siphoning Money From U.S. EconomyMarch 11, 2008 20:58 Crude oil prices continued a record-breaking climb today that pushed it past $109 a barrel, while the price of regular unleaded gasoline at the pump came within half a cent of its all-time high.

A White House announcement that Vice President Cheney would probably ask Saudi Arabia to boost oil output during a trip to the Middle East next week did nothing to blunt a run-up in prices that yesterday added $3 to the cost of a barrel.

As the rising cost of crude oil trickles down to the gasoline pump, fuel prices are siphoning cash away from other consumer spending, making it harder to revive the flagging U.S. economy and putting pressure on the Bush administration. It also siphoned more money out of the country: The Commerce Department reported today that the U.S. trade deficit jumped in January to $58.2 billion, compared to $57.9 billion in December, as a record, $27.1 billion monthly bill for imported crude helped offset an increase in U.S. exports.

According to the auto club AAA, the price of gasoline climbed to $3.222 a gallon yesterday, just shy of the $3.227 record set May 24.

"We're hurting in this thing, and it doesn't look like there's any end of it," said Ralph Bombardiere, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops. "It looks like it's heading to $4" a gallon.