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As one might appreciate, having nuclear weapons developed and deployed in Iran is most dangerous for the nations that lie close to Iran, such as Russia. It was therefore a startling change when on March 8, 2006, after discussing the Iran crisis with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Russia’s objections to applying sanctions to Iran, while warning that “there is no military solution to this crisis.” Instead, Mr. Lavrov welcomed a proposal to continue exploring diplomatic solutions with Iran, which would allow Iran to continue to develop its nuclear program. A nuclear program that would be in close proximity to the Russian boarders, yet worrisome to the West.

After visiting the U.S. State Department, Lavrov said that the Hamas government should receive international funding because Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal had assured him that the money would “be spent in a transparent manner.” And, like Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas before him, Mashaal promised Lavrov to allow international monitors to ensure this. Mashaal went on to praise Russia for breaking “the blockade which Israel and the United States have been trying to impose on us,” and added that his visit to Russia “opened the door to the entire global community.”

This relationship allies Russia with an elected group that desires to see the destruction of the nation of Israel. On March 6, on Al Jazeera TV, Mashaal spoke to the international community saying: “If they [Israel] want an all-out war – we are ready. If they want peace — let them acknowledge the rights of the Palestinian people and get out of our land.” The demand to turn Hamas into a mere political party is unrealistic, he said, elaborating on an interview, in which Hamas deputy head Musa Abu Marzouq explained the “phased” approach to seek “an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty over the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza,” while unflinchingly insisting that “From the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea belongs to the Palestinians …”

Funds released

The New York Times reported on March 7 that: “The World Bank released $42 million on Tuesday to help the debt-ridden Palestinian Authority pay salaries until the radical Islamic group Hamas forms the next government. The money represents part of the $60 million withheld from the Palestinians last December because they failed to meet commitments to fiscal responsibility. The interim government has promised some reforms, an official said, which allowed the bank to release the money.” Further, Iran has announced that “they would fulfill all financial needs of the Palestinian Authority.”

Problems for American influence

Under great political pressure in the United States, the Dubai government withdrew from a business arrangement to manage some port operations in America. Although the U.S. congress seemed pleased with the announcement, President Bush realized immediately that this decision would damage U.S. Middle Eastern relations. As reported in the New York Times on March 11,: “I’m concerned about a broader message this issue could send to our friends and allies around the world, particularly in the Middle East,” said Bush during an appearance before a conference of the National Newspaper Association. “In order to win the war on terror, we have got to strengthen our friendships and relationships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East. Separately, in what may have been an aftershock to the failed transaction, a new round of trade talks between the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates was postponed.”

With Dubai servicing more U.S. military ships than any other country in the world, the president said he would now have to work to shore up the U.S. relationship with the UAE and explain to Congress and the public why it’s a valuable one.
Never fully comprehending how the hand of God works with the world’s political leaders, we continue to watch, fascinated as the Middle East stays in the center of the daily news.
George Rayner

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