January 22, 2009

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Whitehouse.gov has a summary of the Obama/Biden administration's foreign policy platform up. There are no radical departures from the campaign, but of course now the policy prescriptions there are on the official White House website as official presidential policy. They include a refocus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, holding Pakistan more accountable, supporting Israel come what may, adding America's weight to "the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty and hunger around the world in half by 2015", de-politicizing the intelligence community and repairing America's tattered diplomatic initiatives.

But Julian Borger at the UK's Guardian makes special note of two elements of Obama's campaign platform that are now official US policy and are sure to make rightwing heads explode:

The new Obama administration is willing to talk to Iran "without preconditions" and will work towards the abolition of nuclear weapons, the White House said today.

The Obama foreign policy agenda that appeared on the White House website said: "Barack Obama supports tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions," the policy outline said. The Bush administration made direct talks between the US and Iran conditional on Iranian suspension of its uranium enrichment programme. This step breaks that conditionality, as part of a fundamental shift in diplomatic approach. The Obama agenda said the new administration will "talk to our foes and friends" and not set preconditions.

However, talks with Iran will be "tough and direct", and will put on the table the same deal that the international community has been trying to get Tehran to accept for the past four years: extensive economic and diplomatic help if uranium enrichment is suspended, further economic pressure and diplomatic isolation if it does not. Iran has resisted this carrot-and-stick approach so far, despite four sets of UN sanctions, but western diplomats hope that direct engagement by Washington will help break the impasse. "In carrying out this diplomacy, we will coordinate closely with our allies and proceed with careful preparation," the White House said. "Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress."

The other notable shift in US foreign policy announced today was a strategic decision to move towards a "nuclear free world", through bilateral and multilateral disarmament. "Obama and [Vice President Joe] Biden will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it," according to the agenda. It is a long term goal. The US will maintain a "strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist", but begin to take steps on the "long road towards eliminating nuclear weapons".

The development of new nuclear weapons will be stopped, a sharp change from the Bush administration that pushed for a new generation of warheads, and the new administration will work with Moscow to take US and Russian missiles off their current hair trigger alert, while seeking "dramatic reductions in US and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material".

It remains Iran's right under the NPT, just as it is every other signatory's right, to enrich uranium for civilian purposes. So in the absence of any "smoking gun" proving Iran has a current nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will have to continue jumping through dubious hoops of legalese and pressuring other UNSC members if they want to keep the Bush agenda of saying Iran isn't allowed to enrich. And Iran will refuse to halt enrichment because it's now become a matter of national pride for Iranians that they keep their NPT right. However, there is a way out by "internationalising" Iran's enrichment program along with those of other nations - and negotiating "without preconditions" opens that door nicely. That way, it's not technically Iran doing the enrichment and there will be a far greater level of transparency ensuring no re-direction to weapons research or production. Obama has to be thinking about that route. Mind you, if the Obama administration goes that way - eminiently sensible though it is - they will come under immense pressure to insist Pakistan, North Korea, India...and Israel...join the international community enrichment scheme as well as NPT signatory nations.

On the other matter: the Obama administration has finally killed the neoconservative push for a replacement warhead program. Official policy is that the RW program is dead, the neocons lost. Good. That's a beginning to pushback on the ludicrous neocon notion that the US should fund the military to at least 4% of national GDP every year and bodes well for ending other defense boondoggles which are being pushed by neocon lobbyists for the military/industrial complex. It's also a beginning to reducing Russia and America's still-massive nuclear arsenals, controlling loose nuclear material and eventually having the moral authority to say no-one else should have nukes either. The UK government will be happy to see it too. Borger notes that Britain "claims to have reduced the total explosive power of its nuclear arsenal by 75%" and is to announce a major policy initiative next month that:

lays out methods for the world to reduce the risk of proliferation, and work towards a nuclear free world, particularly by increasing international confidence in verification techniques, so nations can be sure their rivals are not secretly arming themselves.

"The UK is working to build a broad coalition of governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and businesses which share the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and to forge agreement on how we will work together to make it happen," the policy paper will say.

The UK will be looking to Obama for support for that initiative now - something it never would have gotten from Bush. Today, I'm encouraged. Here's hoping there's no slip between this policy summary and actual implementation.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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