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As U.S. Explores Dialogue with Muslim Brotherhood, Israelis Urge a Tougher Line Against Islamists’

By Tony Karon | @tonykaron | January 5, 2012

Unlike its predecessor, the Obama Administration has understood the limits on Washington’s ability to remake the Middle East to its own specifications. The corollary, of course, is that in a rapidly democratizing region, refusal to engage with political Islam will leave the U.S. increasingly isolated from the Arab mainstream. As a result, the Administration has begun holding high-level meetings with those it has traditionally shunned, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. But whatever their diplomatic logic, such moves may carry a not insubstantial domestic political cost in an election season where the President’s rivals are keen to paint him as insufficiently supportive of Israel.

Election results in Egypt, Tunisia and even Morocco confirm the Islamists as the dominant political current within the newly empowered Arab public. The same trend has been clear in every Iraqi election since the ouster of Saddam Hussein and in the most recent Palestinian election, and there’s no reason to believe the outcome will be much different when and if elections are held in Libya and Syria. Political Islam is hardly Washington’s cup of tea, rooted in a view of society quite at odds with Western liberalism, and ready to challenge unwanted U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and to confront Israel over the Palestinians. But long gone is the Bush-era illusion that Arab democracy would produce regimes ready to befriend Israel and ally with Washington. And while the likes of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may castigate the Obama Administration for failing to prop up the Mubarak dictatorship, the Arab public has demonstrated over the past year that its democratic aspirations can no longer be kept in check by unelected strongmen, except at an unconscionable price in blood.

So the meeting of U.S. officials with Muslim Brotherhood leaders represents a pragmatic acknowledgement that the party represents the mainstream of public opinion in a country that has traditionally been a U.S. ally and which remains a beacon of influence throughout the Arab world. It also reflects an opportunity for both sides to start a long-suppressed conversation that could allow some rethinking of the relationship. After all, taking the reins of government, and with it responsibility for delivering a better life for all Egyptians amid a flailing economy, enforces a certain pragmatism in the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants relations with Western countries. And given the coming struggle for control of the political reins between the elected parliament — which will be led by the Brotherhood, and a junta of generals representing a military that has long been a U.S. client — Washington could yet play an important role in smoothing the transition to democracy and ensuring stability.

One source of U.S. anxiety over the Islamists’ election victory is the question of whether the Brotherhood would uphold Egypt’s 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Israel. Its electoral representative, the Freedom and Justice Party, undertook in its manifesto to uphold all of Egypt’s international agreements. But the movement’s deputy leader, Rashad al-Bayoumi, caused a stir over the New Year by suggesting that Egypt may choose to revise the treaty, and that the Egyptian public ought to be given the right to decide the matter — presumably through a referendum.


Iran Shrugs At Looming EU Ban On Its Oil

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 5, 2012

Iran on Thursday played down the impact of new Western sanctions targeting its vital oil sector, after European diplomats said they have reached preliminary agreement on an EU oil ban from the Islamic republic.

The National Iranian Oil Company said demand was so high for Iranian oil that it would have no trouble selling it elsewhere.

“We hope that Iran’s oil is not sanctioned officially but if so we have taken the needed arrangements,” the company’s director of international affairs, Mohsen Qamsari, was quoted as saying in a report on Iran’s oil ministry website.

The 27-nation European Union has struck “an agreement in principle” to ban Iranian oil imports, an EU diplomat in Brussels told AFP.



U.S. Companies Added 325,000 Jobs: ADP

Companies added more workers than forecast in December, a sign that the U.S. labor market was gaining momentum heading into 2012, according to a private report based on payrolls.

The 325,000 increase was the highest in records going back to 2001 and exceeded the highest projection in a Bloomberg News survey after a revised 204,000 gain the prior month, the report from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Employer Services showed today. The median estimate called for an advance of 178,000.

An acceleration in hiring may spur further gains in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s largest economy. A Labor Department report tomorrow may show payrolls rose by 150,000, not enough to keep the unemployment rate (USURTOT) from rising to 8.7 percent, economists in a Bloomberg survey projected.

“We certainly are seeing resilience in the job market,” said Sean Incremona, a senior economist at 4cast Inc. in New York. “We’ve seen some improvement versus earlier in 2011 and it’s encouraging.”



New York Governor Urges Mandatory DNA Samples

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

NEW YORK — New York’s governor on Wednesday proposed making the state the first in the country to take mandatory DNA samples from anyone convicted of a crime, including relatively lesser offenses.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in an annual “State of the State” speech to the New York legislature, said currently DNA was collected in less than half of crimes on the books.

“I will propose a bill requiring the collection of a DNA sample from any person convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor,” said Cuomo, a former federal prosecutor and New York state attorney general.

Cuomo said that applying DNA collection to all criminals would both help law-enforcement bodies fight serious crime and protect against wrongful convictions.



8Th-Grader Killed By Texas Police Had Pellet Gun


BROWNSVILLE, Texas - Police say the weapon a Texas eighth-grader pointed at officers in a school hallway before they killed him was a pellet gun that looked like a real handgun.

Interim Brownsville Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez says 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez had "plenty of opportunities" to lower the weapon but "didn't want to."

Rodriguez says two officers fired three shots and struck Gonzalez at least twice.

Rodriguez says that before the confrontation with police, Gonzalez walked into a Cummings Middle School classroom and punched another boy in the nose. He says he doesn't know why Gonzalez brandished the weapon but that the initial call to police said a student had a gun.



Hillary Clinton For Vice President

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — “We need Hillary in the White House in 2016 or on the ticket in 2012,” an elderly man told Bill Clinton at a recent book signing here. The former president smiled, signed a copy of “Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy,’’ and assured the man he’d let his wife know: “I’ll pass that along to Hillary.”

Arkansas Democrats have been whispering for months that President Barack Obama would be smart to put Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the ticket as vice-president.

After all, it’s no secret Hillary is tired of logging miles as the 67th Secretary of State. She racked up 237,597 miles – as of Dec. 8, the latest date for totals – while visiting 45 countries and logging 506 hours of travel time in 2011. She has already said she doesn’t want a second term as Secretary of State.

When asked about her plans, the former president said, “She’s tired and she wants to come home” and “do the kind of work that I’m doing now.” But, he added, “It’s up to her to come and know what she intends to do.”



Oil Soars Close To 8-Month Highs On Iran Tensions

LONDON — Oil prices spiked close to eight-month highs on Wednesday as traders fretted over heightened tensions between key crude producer Iran and the United States over transit through the Gulf.

The market also found solid support in a stream of positive economic data which boosted the outlook for the global economy and energy demand.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in February, spiked to $103.74, a leval last touched on May 11. The contract fell back to $102.61, down 35 cents from Tuesday's closing level.

"Alongside the return of economic optimism, oil is also finding support from the continuing tensions between Iran and the United States as sabre-rattling is stepped up on both sides," said Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg.



Netanyahu’s Shadow War For The GOP Begins?

Israel Hayom, the pro-Netanyahu free tabloid published by Jewish-American gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, published a story today on recent criticism dealt by Israel’s National Security Council of US President Barak Obama’s policy towards Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

U.S. President Barack Obama is “naive” and needs to face up to the threat presented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, Israel’s National Security Council concluded during a strategic discussion several days ago.

The council, responsible for providing the prime minister and cabinet ministers with strategic assessments, said it was concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, especially in light of the group’s world view and pronouncements from its officials, repeated as recently as this week, that call the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty into question.

As the article states, the NSC is not an independent think-tank but a strategic assessment body, operating under the Prime Minister’s Office. The head of the NSC is retired IDF general Yaakov Amidror, who was a regular contributor for Israel Hayom until his appointment.

According to numerous reports in the Israeli media, Binyamin Netanyahu sees another Obama term as clear political threat to himself, to the point where he is mulling on calling early election in Israel, so that a possible Democratic victory in November doesn’t affect his standing in the polls.



American Enterprise Institute: Safe House For Bush Alumni

By Laurie Bennett
January 3, 2012 at 7:39am

The Cheneys can always count on a warm welcome at the American Enterprise Institute.

The conservative think tank has long channeled people and policy to Republican administrations, serving as a landing pad for administration higher-ups before and after their time in Washington.

Dick Cheney was a fellow at AEI before becoming vice president. He now serves as a trustee.

His wife, Lynne Cheney, is a resident scholar, working on her 15th book, a biography of James Madison.

Plenty of colleagues from the George W. Bush years are also there.



Muslim Brotherhood In The Lead As Egyptians Vote In Final Round Of Election

The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was edging on Wednesday toward a dominant role in Egypt's first free parliament in decades, but said it would not impose its will over a new constitution and would work with all political rivals on the blueprint.

Egyptians went to the polls for a second day in the final stage of the election for the assembly's lower house, the first free legislative vote since military officers overthrew the monarchy in 1952.

The vote is part of the ruling army council's plan to hand power to civilians before July, ending their turbulent interregnum that began with the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February in a popular uprising.

Welcomed then as heroes who helped nudge the unpopular, autocratic leader from office, the generals now face anger over their handling of protests that left 59 dead since mid-November and an economic crisis that is worsening the plight of the poor.


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