News / USA

    US Middle East Policy in Obama's Second Term

    US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).
    x
    US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).
    US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).
    Mohamed Elshinnawi
    As Barack Obama begins his second four-year term as president, there is renewed talk about U.S. policy toward the Middle East, especially about what might be in store for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

    The talk gained momentum when Senator John Kerry, expected to be confirmed next week as the new U.S. secretary of state, testified on Thursday that reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be one of his top priorities.

    Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing that he hoped the latest Israeli elections might open a window of opportunity to resume peace talks and that a two-state solution – creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel – was the key to progress on this front.

    The possibility of renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks has been a topic discussed by Washington Middle East policy analysts for months now, alongside such issues as how the United States should deal with the civil war in Syria and other political upheavals that have grown out of the now two-year-old “Arab Spring” uprisings.

    US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
    x
    US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
    US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
    David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the U.S. could start to move toward renewed talks by clearly stating its continued support for the two-state solution.

    “The U.S. should also ask both Israelis and Palestinians to reiterate their public commitment to the principle of a permanent, peaceful two-state solution to their conflict,” Pollock says. He adds, however, that it would be a mistake for Washington to offer its own formula for a permanent solution just yet.

    “I don’t think the U.S. should put a package now on the negotiating table because the parties are far apart on substance,” he says. “It would be a mistake to propose something that is probably doomed to fail.”

    Other Middle East analysts disagree, urging Obama’s new administration to move quickly. One of them is Marwan Muasher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

    “The choice now for the Obama administration is between the difficulty of achieving peace today and the impossibility of achieving it tomorrow” Muasher says. “The U.S. must commit itself to work through the Quartet [the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the U.S.] to bring about a speedy settlement of the conflict and put a package on the negotiating table before it is too late.”

    The Arab Spring

    Another challenge facing the new Obama administration is how to deal with the sweeping changes brought onto the Middle East by the Arab Spring.

    Muasher says Washington should tailor its diplomacy to each individual Arab Spring nation rather than attempt a one-size-fits-all policy.  He also says the U.S. should avoid imposing political conditions on aid and trade because that could provoke strong nationalistic reactions.

    David Pollock thinks that would be a mistake. “While we try as hard as we can to maintain our close ties with Egypt, for example, we have to tie our support, whether politically or economically, to certain requests like a continued Egyptian adherence to the peace treaty with Israel.”

    A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.
    x
    A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.
    A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.
    Syria

    Some experts believe a resolution to the civil war in Syria in intrinsically linked to Iran.

    William Quandt is a former member of the National Security Council, influential Middle East analyst and professor at the University of Virginia. Quandt says Washington should quickly turn its attention toward seeking a diplomatic reconciliation with Tehran.

    “The new secretary of state should find a reliable channel to Iran’s top leadership and start his own assessment of how to forge a new relationship,” Quandt says.  “A deal on nuclear capabilities needs to be a part of a larger package. If we could succeed, the benefits would be seen in places such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf region.”

    Quandt, along with Pollock, expects Syria to be a serious challenge to U.S. policies in the Middle East because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, by many indications, will not be able to restore its power after almost two years of civil war and the Syrian opposition does not appear to be poised for a clear-cut victory.

    Pollock describes the Syrian civil war as a tragic example of the Arab Spring gone terribly wrong. “U.S. policy will continue to be extremely cautious, so my advice to the administration is to realize that the situation in Syria demands a more active U.S. role because the risks are enormous for the region,” Pollock says.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.