On February 5, we reported about the fate of the U.S. air base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, which has played a key role in supplying the heavily American NATO forces in the ongoing military operation in Afghanistan — an operation that promises to expand into an ongoing war in the model of Iraq.
Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said on February 3 that his government had decided to shut down the U.S. air base at Manas. Manas air base has been the primary refueling and transport point from which U.S. flights into Afghanistan are dispatched, and its importance has grown as convoys supplying the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan have increasingly been attacked while traveling over the Khyber Pass from Pakistan.
Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, announced on February 3 that on the previous day the Islamic nation had launched its first domestically produced satellite. (Although in October 2005, Iran's first satellite, the Sina-1, which carried photographic and telecommunications equipment, was placed in orbit by a Russian rocket.) Iranian state TV reported that the satellite was meant for telecommunication and research purposes.
For the second time in two days, the cease-fire between the Hamas Palestinian terrorist faction that controls Gaza and neighboring Israel was broken on February 2. On the previous day, Israeli aircraft — in retaliation for Hamas' Qassam rocket attacks against the Negev desert region of southwestern Israel — struck Hamas targets throughout Gaza. The exchange of fire continued on Monday, February 2, as Hamas fired mortar shells into Israel and the Israelis responded with missiles.
German Prime Minister Angela Merkel proposed a new “global financial architecture” at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 30. But press coverage of the five-day event (ending February 1) focused upon side events, such as the spat between Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the many other verbal slights at the event.
Cuban President Raul Castro began an eight-day visit in Russia on January 29, when he met informally with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a hunting lodge in Zavidovo, about 90 miles north of Moscow. More formal talks were held in the Kremlin the next day, where the two leaders signed a partnership pact between the two nations. It was the first visit by a Cuban leader to Russia since the end of the Cold War.
George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration's special Middle East envoy, traveled to Israel from Cairo on January 28 for a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then on to Ramallah,West Bank, the next day to meet with Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders. However, Mitchell had no plans to meet with representatives of Hamas. The United States, Israel, and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
In an announcement made to reporters in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on January 20, General David Petraeus, the U.S. Central Command chief, stated that the United States has reached agreements with several Central Asian countries and Russia for opening new supply routes through their territories for the U.S. and NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan.
Iceland’s government has become the first state casualty to collapse from the economic crisis currently engulfing the globe. A new election is scheduled for May 9. Amid protests that have become increasingly violent, Prime Minister Geir Haarde resigned this week along with Bjorgvin Sigurdsson, the nation’s top economic minister. The International Monetary Fund is even coming to the rescue, something that while typical in “developing countries,” hasn’t happened to a Western European nation in over three decades. The economy is forecasted to shrink by 10 percent in 2009 according to the Icelandic Finance Ministry, possibly worse.
The world's attention remained focused on the Middle East during the week of January 25, as President Barack Obama met with his special envoy to the region, former Senator George J. Mitchell, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House on Monday. Obama also taped his first interview with an Arab television station, directed to the Islamic world, that day. The interview, taped in the White House map room, was broadcast on Tuesday on Al Arabiya, a 24-hour Arabic-language news channel in Dubai. As the interview was aired in the Muslim world, Mitchell arrived in Egypt to begin an eight-day foreign tour that will continue with Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, before moving on to France and the United Kingdom.
As the British pound continues downward relative to foreign currencies and the nation’s banks continue sucking up taxpayer money, nationalization seems to be on the horizon. Britain’s economy has been contracting at alarming levels, and the pound has gone down with it — down almost 30 percent against the U.S. dollar from last year to about 1.35.