December 02, 2009

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EU Foreign Policy Chief Solana Quietly Steps Down Javier Solana has retired from his position as the EU foreign relations chief as the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect, leaving his successor a mixed legacy. He has long been acknowledged as a master of quiet international diplomacy. In the 10 years he spent in the job, he transformed the EU’s common security and foreign policies, building up a body of military experts and diplomats who coordinate the work of over 20 crisis relief missions in places from Kosovo to the Gulf of Aden. He had personally acted as the EU’s spokesman and negotiator in some 600 delegations. With limited support from EU member states, he relied on his personal charm and energy to win the confidence of leaders in Balkan, post-Soviet and Middle Eastern countries. Human rights campaigners, however, have had reservations about Solana’s achievements. He had been criticized for concentrating on conflict resolution in Europe and the Middle east at the expense of problems in China and Russia. He had even been accused of being too pragmatic in the face of power. In his time as NATO chief, Solana agreed to the bombing of Serbia in 1999. He supported the Iraq war in 2003, and in 2005 blocked an EU campaign to refer Sudan to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Human Rights Watch advocate Lotte Leicht has assessed Solana’s human rights record as mixed. “In terms of quiet diplomacy, he has probably performed quite well. But in terms of public diplomacy, he has not,” she has stated. Commentators and critics have already begun to speculate on how Solana’s successor, the little-known Catherine Ashton, will carry out her new role. They agree, however, that Solana will be a tough act to follow.
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Beware the winds of December While America has been absorbed by the Afghan election imbroglio, a less-noticed event slid into place in the Middle East. It is less dramatic than President Hamid Karzai’s near removal; but this event tilts the strategic balance: Turkey finally shrugged off its United States straight-jacket; stared past any beckoning European Union membership; and has fixed its eyes toward its former Ottoman Asian and Middle Eastern neighbors. Turkey did not make this shift merely to snub the West; but it does reflect Turkey’s discomfort and frustration with US and EU policy - as well as resonate more closely with the Islamic renaissance that has been taking place within Turkey. This “release” of Turkish policy towards a new direction - if successful - can be as significant as the destruction of Iraq and the implosion of Soviet power was, 20 years ago, in “releasing” Iran to emerge as one of the pre-eminent powers in the region. In the past months, a spate of new agreements have been signed by Turkey with Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia, which suggest not just a nascent commonality of political vision with Iraq, Iran and Syria, but more importantly, it reflects a joint economic interest - the northern tier of Middle East states are in line to become the principal suppliers of natural gas to Europe - thus displacing Russia as the dominant purveyor of gas to central Europe. In short, the prospective Nabucco gas pipeline to central Europe may gradually eclipse the energy primacy of Saudi oil.

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