The Envoy

  • Brazil's top diplomat said he has asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to consider weighing in on the legality of a possible preemptive strike on Iran.

    "No doubt adding an additional flashpoint of military action in a volatile region will greatly exacerbate tensions," Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told Yahoo News in an interview in New York Tuesday. The international community should proceed "with the utmost caution."

    "There is a role for him in this," Patriota said he had proposed to the UN chief. "One sometimes hears the expression, 'all options are on the table.' But some actions are contrary to international law."

    Patriota's comments come as the United States, United Kingdom and Russia have asked Israel both privately and publicly not to carry out a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

    Patriota has played a key role as architect of Brazil's foreign policy amid the country's rapid rise into a major global power. Last month, Brazil surpassed the United Kingdom as the sixth largest economy in the world. In another sign of the dizzying pace of the country's rise on the global scene, Brazil has roughly doubled the number of its embassies and consulates around the world in just the past ten years.

    Earlier this month, Brazil joined Washington and 11 other nations at the UN Security Council in voting in favor of a resolution that would have condemned Syria's Bashar al-Assad for his brutal crackdown. But Russia and China vetoed the measure, putting into disarray diplomatic efforts to try to stem the spiraling violence in Syria where more than 6,000 people have been killed in the eleven month uprising.

    Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil March 17, 2011. (Eraldo Peres/AP)
    Despite the setback, further diplomatic and humanitarian measures should be tried first before the prospect of another Libya-style military intervention, Patriota said.

    He suggested, for instance, that the UN Secretary General should appoint a high-level envoy to Syria. "Someone of Kofi Annan's stature," he said, referring to the former UN chief. Reports Thursday said Annan, indeed, would likely be tapped for the Syria envoy post.

    Brazil has had to grow its foreign policy to match its new clout. Historically averse (like many of its Latin American neighbors) to international military interventions—even those for an ostensibly humanitarian cause--Brazil's preference for international diplomatic consensus and negotiated solutions has been challenged by the brutality with which Bashar al-Assad and, until his overthrow, Moamar Gadhafi have set about slaughtering their own people.

    Patriota and his foreign ministry colleagues have sought to rise to the moral challenge by presenting Brazil's vision for the principles that should apply in protecting civilians during such conflicts. Their vision-- outlined in a policy paper,  "Responsibility while protecting," (.pdf) which was introduced at the UN General Assembly this past fall-- acknowledges cases when populations need outside help without the consent of their rulers. But it warns even noble-minded military interventions bring a whole set of consequences, such as instability and civilian deaths, to the very population the international community is trying to help.

    Read More »from UN should weigh in on legality of Iran strike, Brazil’s foreign minister tells Yahoo News
  • U.S. negotiator Glyn Davies speaks to the media as he arrived in Beijing to holds talks with North Korean envoys Feb. 23, 2012. (Andy Wong/AP)

    U.S. and North Korean envoys met Thursday in Beijing for their first talks since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on December 17th.

    "Today is, as we say, 'game day,'" U.S. envoy on North Korean affairs Glyn Davies told journalists ahead of the talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan, according to the Washington Post. "We will have an opportunity to meet with First Vice Foreign Minister Kim and his team."

    Envoys from the two nations last met in July, when they reportedly came close to finalizing an agreement under which Pyongyang would have allowed the return of nuclear inspectors in exchange for a large U.S. food aid package.

    State Department officials expressed cautious optimism ahead of what they termed "exploratory talks," which took place at a morning session Thursday at Pyongyang's Beijing embassy, and in a later session at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

    "We're always cautiously optimistic that there will be a new spirit to these consultations, but let's let them play out," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday at a State Department press briefing.

    As to whether the U.S. food aid package was still on the table, Toner said it would be discussed. "As you know, we had some concerns," said Toner. "We were asking for the North Koreans to respond to those concerns."

    Despite Washington's cautious optimism, Asia analysts said the signals coming from Pyongyang going into the exploratory talks were tense. Asia analyst Chris Nelson noted that Pyongyang is irritated that it has not been invited to an international summit on securing loose nuclear material that is due to take place next month in Seoul, South Korea.

    Read More »from With cautious optimism, U.S. holds first talks with North Korea since Kim Jong-Il’s death
  • IAEA ends Iran visit with no agreement reached

    A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) abruptly ended a visit to Iran Tuesday saying its request to visit a suspect Iranian military facility had been denied.

    "It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin during the first or second meetings," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in a press statement from the Vienna-based agency. "We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached."

    Though it was the second visit of an IAEA inspection team to Iran in the past month, the atomic watchdog agency said Iran had shown little willingness to ease their concerns amid a growing standoff over its nuclear program.

    The seemingly failed visit comes as the State Department said Tuesday it may issue a response later this week to Iran's letter expressing readiness to return to international nuclear negotiations, which it sent last week.

    "We obviously have read the letter," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at the State Department press briefing Tuesday. "I think we are expecting to do some more work this week. I think our hope is to be able to have a little bit more to say by the end of the week."

    The IAEA is expected to issue a report as early as this week on Iran's nuclear program; its assessment is certain to be clouded by the continuing stalemate in efforts to get Iran to answer questions about suspected military aspects to its nuclear program.

    "It's not as though the visit was expected to actually get an explanation from Iran over [all] these questions," Paul Brannan, an Iran nuclear expert at the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. told Yahoo News in an interview Wednesday. "But instead Iran could have shown it was ready to talk about these issues. Apparently they are not."

    Read More »from IAEA ends Iran visit with no agreement reached


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  • Egypt puts 26 men on trial for 'debauchery'
    Egypt puts 26 men on trial for 'debauchery'

    An Egyptian court on Sunday tried 26 men for alleged debauchery after accusing them of homosexual activity at a Cairo public bathhouse in a case that sparked international condemnation. The handcuffed defendants, many of them crying, arrived in court with their heads bowed as police pushed them inside a metal cage, an AFP correspondent reported. The defendants were arrested on December 7 in a night raid on a hammam in central Cairo's Azbakeya district. An Egyptian television presenter who filmed the raid as the near naked men were loaded aboard police trucks aired the footage days later.

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