Thursday, February 10, 2005

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

In another remarkable step toward democracy this year, Saudi Arabia has allowed limited elections of municipal councils, the first open elections in Riyadh in over 1500 years of history. Some critics of the election say it's merely a concession by the ruling Saudis to pacify democratic reformists, and that the handful of council members elected will have no real clout (half are elected, the other half appointed by the monarchy). Turnout was also limited, with about 150,000 of the eligible 600,000 men casting their ballots.

But small steps are necessary and welcomed by the supporters of Crown Prince Abdullah's reform concessions, and point to the proposed plan by the Saudi government to gradually phase in democratic processes: next month southern and eastern provinces will have their turn to vote, followed by the western and northen provinces in April. If all goes smoothly, the government has hinted that provincial elections could be held within four years, and that they might be willing to open separate polling stations to allow women to vote as well.

Conversely, the President's so-called "Axis of Evil" coalesced as North Korea suspended its' participation in the six-way conferences, claiming possession of nuclear weapons as a necessary deterrent to U.S. aggression. These claims were met with scepticism, but undeniably show Pyongyang's intentions. Some analysts believe that with the World briefly distracted with Iran's sabre-rattling, North Korea may be using brinksmanship in an attempt to receive additional concessions to return to the talks.

Hmm. Pyongyang won't play, uses positional bargaining and dirty tricks. Sounds like they could use a copy of "Getting to Yes".

As already mentioned, Iran's defensive rhetoric has made headlines recently, with President Mohammad Khatami in Tehran claiming that the entire country [of Iran] would become "a burning hell" for anyone daring to invade. At this moment the chances of war are slim, with sanctions by the U.N. Security Council more likely. However, Secretary Condoleeza Rice, did not discount the possibility, stating that unless Iran faced up to its' obligations to halt its' nuclear program, that "next steps were in the offing, and I think everybody understands what the 'next steps' mean," adding that for the time being, the U.N., the United States, and the IAEA were still committed to resolving the issue diplomatically.