The Envoy

  • American officials are reacting cautiously after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced on Thursday that he had asked foreign troops to be withdrawn from Afghan villages and confined to large military bases.

    Karzai apparently made the surprise request in a meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was visiting to try to defuse tensions after a string of inflammatory incidentschief among them, the March 12 shooting rampage by a U.S. staff sergeant in Kandahar province that killed 16 Afghans, including nine children.

    But Karzai's request apparently took the Americans by surprise.

    Panetta believes the request "reflects President Karzai's strong interest in moving as quickly as possible to a fully independent and sovereign Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement sent to Yahoo News on Thursday.

    But he "believes that we have made good progress thus far in both security gains and transition, and that it is important for us to remain focused on those efforts in the months ahead," Little added.

    The requested troop pullback, if implemented, would "essentially end the U.S. combat role just as the annual Taliban spring offensive begins," the Wall Street Journal's Afghanistan editor Yaroslav Trofimov wrote. NATO-led forces are currently due to turn over combat responsibilities to Afghan security forces by the middle of 2013, and to be withdrawn from the country by the end of 2014.

    And while the NATO-led command was still digesting the implications of Karzai's request, the Americans got more bad news: The Taliban announced they were suspending reconciliation talks with the United States. The United States sees the peace talks as a key part of their overall exit strategy. But the Afghan insurgent group said Thursday they were putting the talks on hold, complaining that the Americans were "shaky, erratic and vague."

    Read More »from Karzai makes surprise request to pull U.S. troops from Afghan villages

  • New Pew poll finds Americans wary of intervening in Syria. (PEW)Almost two-thirds of Americans oppose any form of U.S. military intervention in Syria, according to a new poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

    The findings may reflect the public's wariness about wading into what it perceives as a protracted civil war between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian rebels. The year-old Syrian uprising and crackdown has killed an estimated 8,000 people.  The results also appear to reflect Americans' war-weariness more than a decade after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    Sixty-two percent of Americans surveyed expressed opposition to bombing the Syrian military, an idea recently proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the new Pew poll found. Almost the same number--63 percent--said they oppose sending weapons to Syrian groups fighting the Assad regime.

    Notably, the poll found little difference among Republicans and Democrats. "Majorities of Republicans and Democrats say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to get involved, and reject airstrikes or the shipment of arms to anti-government forces," the Pew pollsters wrote in an overview of their latest findings.

    Read More »from Majority of Americans oppose intervening in Syria, new poll finds
  • SWIFT's headquarters in Belgium. (AP)A major global financial clearinghouse, the Brussels-based SWIFT network, announced Thursday that it is cutting off some two dozen Iranian banksa move one Iran analyst described as ousting them from the "financial equivalent of the United Nations."

    "Cutting Iranian banks off from the financial equivalent of the Union Nations is a meaningful step," Mark Dubowitz, an Iran sanctions expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Yahoo News in an interview Thursday.

    "It will greatly complicate Iran's ability to move billions of dollars through the global financial system," he said.

    The Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) handles financial transactions among thousands of banks around the world. The decision means it will no longer provide such services to European Union-sanctioned Iranian banks, SWIFT said. The actionaffecting roughly 25 Iranian bankswill go into effect on Saturday.

    SWIFT''s CEO called the action "unprecedented."

    "Disconnecting banks is an extraordinary and unprecedented step for SWIFT," CEO Lázaro Campos said in a statement posted to SWIFT's website.

    The action comes as the international community is preparing to resume negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program next month.

    Read More »from Global financial group, SWIFT, boots Iran banks from network


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