the latest news on Mideast, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Darfur, Energy bill, Global warming, Faith and politics, and selected Op-Eds.
Mideast. Israel and Palestinians Set Goal of a Treaty in 2008 "Israeli and Palestinian leaders committed themselves to negotiate a peace treaty by the end of 2008, setting a deadline for ending a conflict that has endured for six decades." Middle East renews peace talks  "George Bush will preside today over the formal relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, inviting Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas to the White House to begin the first negotiations in seven years." Middle East peace deal 'by 2008'  "Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to re-start negotiations to reach a comprehensive peace deal by the end of 2008." Israel, Palestinians pledge to reach accord by late next year  "Israeli and Palestinian leaders announced that they'll immediately resume negotiations on Middle East peace and a Palestinian state after a seven-year hiatus, with a goal of reaching a treaty before the end of 2008." Negotiations on final status to get underway in 2 weeks  "Israel and the Palestinians will begin final-status negotiations on December 12, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced yesterday in a joint statement read out by U.S. President George W. Bush at the Annapolis conference." Palestinians Give Voice to Contempt for Annapolis Talks  "Thousands of Hamas supporters rallied in the streets of the Gaza Strip against the U.S.-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, and a second armed Palestinian movement vowed to intensify its attacks on Israel,"
Iran. Iran Casts Big Shadow on Mideast Talks  "The Middle East peace conference was officially about ending the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. But there was an unspoken goal just below the surface: stopping the rising regional influence of Iran and Islamic radicalism." Syrian participation dismays some in Iran  "The US-brokered Mideast peace conference yesterday raised tensions between allies Syria and Iran. Damascus defended its participation, while Iran said it was surprised by Syria's decision and warned that Arab countries risk falling for an Israeli plot."
Pakistan. Musharraf steps down as army chief  "Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, has stepped down as army chief, ending eight years of divisive military rule as he prepares to be sworn in as a civilian leader." Musharraf gives up army uniform  "Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has handed over the command of the military in a ceremony in Rawalpindi." Musharraf steps down as military chief  "President Pervez Musharraf today formally relinquished his position as military chief of staff, a role that for more than eight years defined him as Pakistan's leader, but that ultimately led to a popular uprising that threatened to drive him from power."
Iraq. Military Progress Doesn't Make War More Popular  "The debate at home over the Iraq war has shifted significantly in the two months since Gen. David H. Petraeus testified to Congress and President Bush ordered the first troop withdrawals, with more Americans now concluding that the situation on the ground is improving." How fragile is Baghdad's calm?  "Even as life reasserts itself in a few upscale areas such as Karrada and Jadriyah, wide swaths of middle-class western Baghdad remain locked down amid uncertainty over whether progress is lasting or is the result of a brief cease-fire between sectarian militias."
Darfur. Sudan 'blocking' Darfur mission  "Sudanese obstacles could mean the UN mission in Darfur is not viable, the head of UN peacekeeping has said. Jean-Marie Guehenno told the United Nations Security Council that excessive demands from Khartoum "would make it impossible for the mission to operate"." Darfur may not get peacekeeping force  "Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Security Council that it may face a hard choice about the 26,000-strong force scheduled to deploy in a month: to send troops that cannot defend themselves and the people of Darfur, or to not send troops at all." Sudan Continues to Obstruct Peacekeepers, U.N. Official Charges  "Sudan's government has imposed a series of new bureaucratic obstacles that undermine the ability of a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission in Darfur to protect civilians and its own troops there, according to the United Nations' top peacekeeping official."
Energy bill. Congress Called Near Compromise on Fuel Economy Bill  "Congressional negotiators are nearing agreement on a measure to set significantly higher fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks, according to aides and lobbyists."
Global warming. U.N. Warns of Climate-Related Setbacks  "A new United Nations report warns that progress toward prosperity in the world's poorest regions will be reversed unless rich countries promptly begin curbing emissions linked to global warming while also helping poorer ones leapfrog to energy sources that pollute less than coal and oil." UN: cut carbon to save poor  " The report, commissioned by the UN Development Programme, said climate change would hit the least-developed countries the hardest." UN says poor nations need billions a year in climate aid  "The report said rich nations will need to provide $86 billion a year by 2015 to "strengthen the capacity of vulnerable people" to cope with climate-related risks."
Faith & politics. Romney puts faith in Christian past  "Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said yesterday that he hopes to convince voters that his Mormon faith is mainstream." In Iowa, Mormon Issue Is Benefiting Huckabee  "The religious divide over Mitt Rommey's Mormon faith that his supporters had long feared would occur is emerging in Iowa as he is being challenged in state polls by Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor who has played up his faith in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Short on peace, long on process  (Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst) "Judging from its high attendance and low expectations, Annapolis is more likely to help three sitting ducks, Olmert, Abbas and Bush, than advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The summit also helps the "peace president" silence his domestic Iraq policy detractors as the "war president" tries to isolate his Middle East rivals like Iran who reject a pax Americana in the region."
How Annapolis Helps  (David Ignatius, Washington Post) "Something real did happen in Annapolis. The process that began Tuesday may not lead to peace, but that doesn't mean that Annapolis was simply a gaudy, empty show. A careful reading of the "Joint Understanding" that was announced by Bush reveals the achievements and the failures. I find several important steps forward:"
In a country looking for something new, Huckabee arrives  (Garrison Keillor, Chicago Tribune) "The sudden rise of Mike Huckabee in the Republican jousts is a cool plot turn, one that makes you lean forward and turn up the sound. An amiable, well-spoken Southern conservative with a Gomer Pyle face challenging the teeth-baring Rudy Giuliani and the sleek Mitt Romney. You watch Huckabee field questions for a few minutes and the man's appeal is pretty clear. He comes off as a real person, not a caricature: He sounds like a guy talking to you, not a stiff with a set of applause lines."