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As World’s Hot Spots Heat Up Who Is Paying Attention? - 2003-04-15

While the front pages of the major American newspapers are still filled with coverage of the Iraq War, inside other stories report alarming developments. India, equating its situation with that of the United States, is mulling a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan.

There is also continuing violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories. And in the Far East, North Korea has recently test-fired several missiles. In addition, the secretive regime formally withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty earlier this month and has said any attempt by the United Nations’ Security Council to retaliate by imposing economic sanctions would be taken as an act of war.

Critics accuse the Bush Administration of ignoring the crisis on the Korean Peninsula while focusing on the Iraq War. Others note the conflict has worked to the U.S. advantage. The rapid defeat of the Iraqi regime appears to have led North Korea to back off its demands for bilateral talks with the Americans.

Michael Swaine, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the United States rightly had been wary about bilateral talks, preferring to handle the crisis through multinational ones.

“The attitude of the Bush Administration has been that they do not want to go down that road again because they’ve tried it more than once, and it just doesn’t work,” he says. “The North Koreans just simply cheat, and they use bilateral negotiations to try and pry apart the U.S. from South Korea and generally divide the allies.”

Mr. Swaine says talks with North Korea should be designed to test the North’s willingness to give up its nuclear program in a viable way. This will involve pursuing a coordinated policy with the other major players.

“In order to implement this kind of test and respond approach, I think the U.S. has to first determine in close coordination and consultation with China, South Korea, Japan and Russia several things. Once the dialogue has commenced everybody needs to agree on how to establish an agreement that can indeed test Pyongyang’s willingness to give up its program,” Mr. Swaine says.

“And this most likely needs to involve a far more comprehensive, verifiable version of the 1994 Agreed Framework that trades security guarantees and assistance to North Korea for a thorough and complete abandonment of its nuclear program,” he says. “I think all parties have to agree on how to deal with or respond to the likely evasion or cheating that the North Koreans might attempt during this process.”

Another hot spot that has flared-up recently is Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and a territory claimed by both India and Pakistan. The two neighbors are trading accusations over who is responsible for ongoing violence in Kashmir. Islamic militants that India says are backed by Pakistan have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence. Teresita Schaeffer, retired U.S. Ambassador and director of the South Asia program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the renewed tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations come on top of a year and more of extraordinarily bad India-Pakistan relations.

“What’s been happening now is an increase in violence in Kashmir, an increase in very bellicose statements coming out of New Delhi with the government of India saying that if preemption was good enough for the United States in Iraq, it is jolly well good enough for India, which faces an actual danger across the border from Pakistan,” Ambassador Schaeffer says.

“And then of course, exactly the kind of response you would expect from the Pakistanis saying they will meet any Indian aggression with the full force of their arms,” she says. “And these kinds of statements add to the tensions in the regions, which were quite high enough even without them.”

Ambassador Schaeffer says the United States adeptly handled the situation last year through crisis management. But she says this time the United States will have to focus on a long-term solution to the crisis.

“This year you’ve got a slightly different dynamic, which is going to make crisis management a bit more difficult. And that is that India is skeptical of the results that it received last year,” she says.

“And I suspect at the same time, that the Pakistanis are not just skeptical of the results, but in the backs of their minds they wonder whether the U.S. involvement is actually going to help them since it’s fairly clear that the U.S. is not going to help them get Kashmir. So one side of it is crisis management. The other side is a more sustained diplomatic effort to help India and Pakistan and ultimately the Kashmiris find a basis for a long-term settlement,” Ambassador Schaeffer says.

The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another hot spot where the United States will have to make a sustained diplomatic effort to reach some type of negotiated peace. Nubar Hovsepian, associate director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says he’s not optimistic the Bush Administration is prepared to do that.

“The situation on the ground is getting worse. Palestinians are denied even existence within their respective towns,” he says. “What is lacking is a peace plan. What is lacking is recognition of the need for pushing through the international consensus of a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. I see no inclination on the part of the Administration to move in that direction.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be the top priority of the international community after the war with Iraq. However, Max Abrahms of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says recent statements by the Bush Administration indicate the United States may have other priorities in the region.

“That really is the big question: to what extent is the U.S. in the day after going to address the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he says. “It’s not one hundred percent clear to what extent the Administration is going to focus on that in light of the other priorities within the Middle East. Specifically, there has been increased discussion about Hezbollah, Syria, Iran’s nuclear development, and then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course. I think that even within the administration there are some things to be worked out.”

Mr. Abrahms says the administration seems to be counting on a democratic, free Iraq to help bring peace and stability to the region. But others, including Mr. Hovsepian, doubt the Arab-Israeli peace process will be any smoother now that Saddam Hussein is gone.

“I don’t see the connection,” he says. “What is on the ground in Israel-Palestine is what’s causing unrest in the area. It has nothing to do with Iraq. It has nothing to do with anywhere else in the world. In fact, it’s the contrary.”

“What occurs on the ground in Palestine and our complicity with the occupation riles fellow Arabs and Muslims elsewhere. So that Palestine is a point of origin rather than being affected by a democratic or a despotic Iraq,” Mr. Hovsepian says.

As coalition forces in Iraq stamp out the remaining pockets of resistance and restore order to the country, observers wonder which hot spot the Bush Administration will focus on next. They say a peaceful resolution of the conflict in each of these areas would contribute to global peace and stability.