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Issue 425 - 02 December 1991

CONFLICTING SIGNALS

Subscriber

Does Iran actually have a coherent foreign policy that can be interpreted by the outside world? Even posing the question alone goes some way to pointing towards a negative answer. On the one hand, Western hostages in Lebanon, held by Iranian- backed groups, have been liberated at an astonishingly accelerated rate over the past few months. On the other hand, the Iranian government chose to mount a "counter conference" to the Madrid peace negotiations underlining its support for the rejectionist camp, while Hizbollah is widely suspected of perpetrating a bomb attack on the American University of Beirut (AUB) early in November.

Issue 424 - 18 November 1991

BUSINESS AS USUAL?

Subscriber

When Shaikh Jaber al Ahmad al Sabah, the ruler of Kuwait, earlier this month ceremoniously extinguished the 100 foot flame of the last of Kuwait's oil well fires the event was treated, understandably enough, as a national celebration. The day, November 6th, has now been declared a Kuwait national annual holiday. Eight months or so ago it was generally thought it would take at least two or more years ago to put out all the oil well fires. The fire-fighting teams from ten different countries triumphantly confounded that gloomy forecast.

Issue 423 - 04 November 1991

CALM JOY. RESERVED JUBILATION

Subscriber

What better way to express the ambiguous response of the Gulf regimes to last week's convening of the Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid? "Calm joy" and "reserved jubilation" were terms used by the English-language Jeddah-based Arab News to describe Saudi reaction to the news. Al Riyadh, one of the kingdom's leading Arabic-language newspapers voiced similarly sceptical optimism. "The Israeli delegation will try to fish for any loophole to foil the conference", it warned. But "Israel and the Arabs must put aside their-historic enmity and resort to the logic of interests", the paper added.

Issue 422 - 22 October 1991

DOING IT OUR WAY

Subscriber

Only weeks after the United States signed a new security pact with Kuwait, it has become evident in Washington that Saudi Arabia is balking at the terms on which a similar agreement with Washington can be reached. Impressed by the way in which the Western allied coalition managed to destroy Iraq's infrastructure and conduct a blitzkrieg operation to liberate Kuwait, Saudi Arabia now reportedly has ambitions to expand its armed forces to conduct the same kind of operation.

Issue 421 - 08 October 1991

CLINGING ONTO NUCLEAR KNOWHOW

Subscriber

The United Nations inspection team probing Iraq's nuclear weapons programme has had a tough time in recent weeks. It was detained two weeks ago and forced to give up documents, then on the following day surrounded in a car park and kept hostage in a bus for four days.

Issue 420 - 24 September 1991

THE REAL SHAPE OF THE NEW ORDER

Subscriber

If the Kuwait crisis ever was to have provided a new order in the Gulf, the one which is now emerging is not what the Western powers really envisaged. It is probably not what the Arab Gulf States foresaw either, for all their floundering about with new security structures.

Issue 419 - 10 September 1991

CONSTRUCTIVE AMBIGUITY

Subscriber

That, apparently, is what the Americans call the very unsteady process towards an Arab- Israeli peace conference. The US strategy conducted by the secretary of state, James Baker, is to emphasise the positive elements in the negotiating package in order to maintain momentum towards a peace conference next month, and weave around the obvious sticking points in the hope that they will become less obstructive as the peace process gathers speed.

Issue 418 - 27 August 1991

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Subscriber

It is an almost embarrassing measure of the Arab world's lack if cohesion an self-confidence that so many of its leasers should respond to so excitedly to the downfall of President Mikhail Gorbachev last week.

Issue 417 - 13 August 1991

EDGING TOWARDS DEMOCRACY

Subscriber

Kuwait's ruling family is not exactly rushing towards the promised restoration of the constitution. In all likelihood, however, elections to a national assembly will after all take place later next year and the main demands of the opposition will be met. Whether this will be enough to heal the internal wounds inflicted by the crisis of the Iraqi invasion and the ruling family is another matter.

Issue 416 - 30 July 1991

STAYING FIRMLY IN PLACE

Subscriber

How could Saddam Hussein be deposed? The past answer from the Bush administration has always been that a coup by the military or the Baath party leadership might take place when either (or both) realised that they would be collectively better off without him.

Issue 415 - 16 July 1991

WHO'S FOOLING WHOM?

Subscriber

Saddam Hussein says yet again that he is quite happy to open up all his nuclear facilities for UN inspection. The United States says it does not believe him (yet again) and this time threatens military strikes against known nuclear plants. There is an unavoidable sense that Iraq's potential nuclear capability is being used by both sides as a useful source of tension and confrontation – for Saddam Hussein to rebuild his image as an Arab leader capable of standing up to US bullying, and for the President Bush as an excuse to take another, perhaps this time fatal, blow at the seemingly irremovable Iraqi leader.

Issue 414 - 02 July 1991

BUFFETTED BY POLITICAL CROSSWlNDS

Subscriber

Poor King Fahd, literally and metaphorically. The most recent estimates of Saudi Arabia's foreign reserves put them at no more than $40bn, a third of the level they reached ten years ago. Declining oil prices (in real terms) have taken their toll in the last decade and financial prudence has now obliged the government and state-owned companies to resort to borrowing from the kingdom's commercial banks.

Issue 413 - 18 June 1991

LEAVING THE MESS BEHIND?

Subscriber

The United States appears determined to extricate itself as far as possible from Iraq and the Gulf, leaving others (the Arab coalition allies, Saddam Hussein and even Iran to sort out the consequences as best or as nastily as they can. One lesson of the war over Kuwait is there is no such thing as a neat, sharp surgical strike, an imaginary concept dear to US political leaders, though treated with more realistic scepticism by the US military.

Issue 412 - 04 June 1991

NOT THE INTENDED EFFECT

Subscriber

The trials of alleged pro-Iraqi collaborators in Kuwait is having quite the opposite effect to that intended. A second in what appears to be a series of show trials was due to commence after adjournment this week. It is likely to cause as much grievance at home and disquiet abroad as the first, which was summarily concluded during May.

Issue 411 - 21 May 1991

THE NEW GULF ORDER EVAPORATES

Subscriber

In the immediate aftermath of the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait it all looked so simple. A reinvigorated, pro- Western alliance of Arab Gulf countries would display strengthened unity of purpose in ensuring regional security. This would be materially backed by Egypt and Syria, former rivals in opposing Cold war camps and – following Iraq's humiliation – the most powerful Arab states, which would now have a role in the Gulf, holding out the prospect of more substantive Arab political cooperation.