"US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, seeking to send signals of support to both sides of the conflict," The Christian Science Monitor reported. "But Senator Obama's latest stop in his multinational tour was a whirlwind primer in trying to simultaneously express solidarity and neutrality in the political minefield that is the Middle East. "'I'm here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States and my abiding commitment to Israel's security and my hope that I can serve as an effective partner, whether as a US senator or as president,' Obama said during a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres. "Such comments sound positive to Israelis, but are frustrating Palestinians and other Arabs, who were hoping that Obama's pledge for change would include a more evenhanded approach. Obama made a short visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but made no comments to the press." In The Guardian, David Hearst wrote: "Mr Obama's schedule of meetings today also speaks volumes about the straitjacket of policy positions he has slipped into for the duration of this visit. After breakfast with the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, who has burnished his hawkish credentials as a tough and unyielding defence minister, Mr Obama went on to meet another strong contender for the premiership - the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. "After that, the now compulsory visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, followed by a meeting with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres. The afternoon beckons with a helicopter tour of the 'seam' between Israel and the West Bank, which ends in Sderot, the southern immigrant town that has born the brunt of rocket fire from Gaza. "In between these two sections of Mr Obama's itinerary, he meets the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in his office in the Muqata in Ramallah. In other words, of the 36 hours Mr Obama has devoted to this visit, he will spend around 45 minutes talking to Palestinian spokesmen. This is one measure of Mr Obama's concern to court Israeli opinion. "But it is at least better than his Republican rival John McCain achieved on his last visit here, where he only managed to telephone Mr Abbas. And there is no question of Mr Obama crossing into Gaza, a land officially designated by Israel as a hostile entity. It will be in Sderot, not Gaza City that Mr Obama will give his first and only press conference of the day." Jonathan Freedland said: "Obama is a down-the-line US Democrat - and firm support for Israel comes with that territory. On that simple metric, there will be no change. But that does not leave him indistinguishable from McCain. On the contrary, clear differences are there (chiefly on talking to Iran) - and most point in a direction that should be welcomed by those who yearn for Middle East peace. "First, Obama will today show a basic respect for the Palestinians that somehow eluded his Republican opponent: the Democrat will visit Ramallah, which McCain skipped when he came to the region in March. Second, Obama is honest enough to admit that the Israel-Palestine conflict does at least contribute to instability in the region, while McCain sees no source of trouble except 'radical Islamic terrorism'. "Above all, Obama promises to do, once more, the work that a US administration alone can do - engaging hands-on, directly and every day, in shepherding the two sides through negotiations and towards peace. Bill Clinton toiled in this way until his last hours in office; Bush, by contrast, steered well clear of the whole messy business until last autumn, when he panicked that he might have no other legacy to point to. Obama has faulted both Clinton and Bush for getting stuck in too late. Yesterday, in Amman, he vowed to roll up his sleeves, 'from the minute I'm sworn into office'." In The Guardian, Ali Abunimah wrote: "Many people I talk to are resigned to the conventional wisdom that aspiring national politicians cannot afford to be seen as sympathetic to the concerns of Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims. They still hope that, if elected, Obama would display an even-handedness absent in the campaign. "Without entirely foreclosing the possibility of change in US policy, the reality is that the political pressures evident in a campaign do not magically disappear once the campaign is over. Nor is all change necessarily for the better. "One risk is that a President Obama or President McCain would just bring back the Clinton-era approach where the United States effectively acted as 'Israel's lawyer', as Aaron David Miller, a 25-year veteran of the US state department's Middle East peace efforts, memorably put it. This led to a doubling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an upsurge in violence and the failed 2000 Camp David summit where Clinton tried to pressure Arafat into accepting a bantustan."
The Iranian nuclear impasse
In Time magazine, Massimo Calabresi traced the steps that have led the US rather than Iran to bend its position on nuclear negotiations. "On the last day of May 2006, under pressure from European allies to open talks with Tehran, the US offered to join the Europeans at the negotiating table - but only if Iran first agreed to suspend its program of uranium enrichment. And, hoping to press the Iranians to comply, Washington spent the next two years trying in vain to forge a consensus in the UN Security Council for meaningful sanctions. Last week, Rice announced that she had agreed to send Burns despite Iran's firm refusal to stop enriching uranium. 'It's been a slow-motion capitulation since 2005,' says Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. 'There's no other way of interpreting it.' "The Iranians have remained steadfast in their refusal to suspend enrichment activities, asserting that they had done so from October 2003 to August 2005 in order to allow negotiations with the Europeans to proceed but that those negotiations had gone nowhere. The election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the summer of 2005 signaled a more hard-line turn in Tehran, and Iran resumed its enrichment activities shortly thereafter, saying it would negotiate with its centrifuges spinning, not silent." The Washington Post reported: "The Bush administration should stop talking about a military attack as an option if negotiations do not immediately halt Iran's uranium reprocessing program, two former national security advisers said yesterday. " 'Don't talk about "do we bomb them now or later?" ' said Brent Scowcroft, adviser to presidents Gerald R Ford and George HW Bush, during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the negotiations between the United States and Iran. "Scowcroft added that by mentioning that threat, 'we legitimize the use of force ... and may tempt the Israelis' to carry out such a mission."
Karadzic's arrest seen as European victory
"Europe on Tuesday welcomed the arrest of Radovan Karadzic not just as a victory for international justice, but as a vindication of the Continent's favored political doctrine: soft power," The New York Times reported. "'This is a big success for Europe,' Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said on Tuesday after meeting his European Union counterparts here, the group's headquarters. "While encouraging close ties between Serbia and the European Union, the union had also insisted that Belgrade hand over those, like Mr Karadzic, indicted on war crimes charges. 'We stayed obstinate, we stayed persistent,' Mr Kouchner said." The Christian Science Monitor said: "The arrest in Belgrade of Radovan Karadzic, political mastermind of the Bosnian genocide, is a clear indication of new Serb president Boris Tadic's intent to integrate his state with Europe, stabilising an isolated and difficult country and a fragile region, experts say. "It also boosts an emerging international justice system, coming a week after The Hague's indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. And it offers an unexpected uplift in the Balkans, where cynicism about unarrested war criminals, including Gen Ratko Mladic, runs deep."
EU says solar power from the Sahara could provide all of Europe's energy needs
"A tiny rectangle superimposed on the vast expanse of the Sahara captures the seductive appeal of the audacious plan to cut Europe's carbon emissions by harnessing the fierce power of the desert sun," The Guardian reported. "Dwarfed by any of the north African nations, it represents an area slightly smaller than Wales [less than a quarter of the size of the UAE] but scientists claimed yesterday it could one day generate enough solar energy to supply all of Europe with clean electricity. "Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona, Arnulf Jaeger-Walden of the European commission's Institute for Energy, said it would require the capture of just 0.3 per cent of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle East deserts to meet all of Europe's energy needs. "The scientists are calling for the creation of a series of huge solar farms - producing electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or by concentrating the sun's heat to boil water and drive turbines - as part of a plan to share Europe's renewable energy resources across the continent."