Friday, 25 July 2008

Not quite the last post...

Back home in Beijing.

It has been a week since arriving home - a week of unpacking and creating space for almost three year's worth of souvenirs and other assorted "junk" from places far and near.

It has also been a period of reflection.

A year in Tehran, almost two in Seoul.

A head full of stories...







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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The last post...

Well, it has been a roller coaster ride.

Tonight, Tuesday 15th July, I hosted my last edition of Middle East Today.

After more than 130 shows interviewing some of the region's top decision and news makers, I indeed owe a debt of gratitude to my crew here in the Live Department at PressTV.

They never failed to provide me with a line-up of guests who had something to say... and some of them quite a lot!

And thanks also to my colleagues in the News Department, busily cutting packages and writing snappy introductions to stories; making sure that I was miked up and buttoned down as the intro rolled at the start of each news broadcast.

Thanks to them all.

I will miss it, and I will miss the crew, a great bunch of people.

It has been an interesting and very informative exercise.

I hope what I have learned here in Tehran - from my colleagues and my guests who joined me by satellite, phone and sometimes in the studio - can be put to good use in the future.

No single person produces a program like Middle East Today. The program host is just one cog in a very big wheel that begins to turn hours and sometimes days before the program goes to air.

It is a team effort from start to finish. And for their support, friendship and professional attitude I thank them, one and all.

I wish them all success in their future endeavors, and the success of Middle East Today - I am sure I am leaving it in good hands.

And I wish success to the hard working anchors, program hosts, graphic designers, cameramen, news writers, editors, producers, control room staff, news assistants, foreign correspondents - the list is long - but they are the people who hold the success of PressTV in their hands.

It is their talent, hard work and dedication, under sometimes trying circumstances, that creates the product you see on the screen.

It was a great pleasure to invite just a small number of them onto the set at the end of the last edition of MET.

Chris Gelken

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Monday, 14 July 2008

The Paris Summit - Club Med or Club Flop?

Middle East Today spoke to two experts on Mediterranean politics to gain an insight into Sarkozy's motives for regenerating an old idea - and its chances for success.

Watch Paris Mediterranean Summit and join the debate.

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A dirty war with no winners

PressTV's another plunge into the complicated world of the Palestinian issue. This particular edition was broadcast a few days before the Paris Summit hosted by Nicolas Sarkozy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had warned he would sever ties and suspend negotiations with Israel unless he received assurances they would abide by UN resolutions and International Court verdicts that the so-called "apartheid wall" and settlement expansion were illegal and should cease immediately.

His statement was posted on the Palestinian Authority's official website.

Obviously, he received no such assurance.

But a few days later, there he is, in a bear hug clinch with Prime Minister Olmert and President Sarkozy - all smiles.

So is anything Abbas says to be taken seriously?

I remember remarking to my colleagues at the time - every Abbas/Olmert handshake is probably worth 10,000 votes to Hamas.

Hamas has accused the PA of assisting the Israeli security forces in their crackdown on Hamas affiliated businesses - including a girl's school - in the West Bank.

So where do we go from here?

Well, watch A Dirty War With No Winners for some insights.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Palestinian state? A dream, nothing more.

The truce is falling apart, with Israeli raids against Hamas interests in the West Bank, and now, accusations that Fatah is actually assisting the Israel Defense Forces in their operations.

That's a story for another day.

One of the riskiest parts of the recently agreed truce between Hamas and Israel, was perhaps the fact that it was not extended to the West Bank.

Many analysts were saying it was a disaster waiting to happen. An increase in Israeli military activity in the West Bank would infuriate Palestinians in Gaza, and despite their desperate situation, might be tempted to retaliate – and thus give Israel an opportunity to respond.

And the Israelis are being provocative.

For example, the Israeli military has blockaded a Palestinian village for the alleged crime of protesting further construction of the West Bank Barrier – which the World Court has already deemed illegal.

Five Palestinians were seized in Nablus during a raid in which the Israeli army used sonic bombs.

Israeli troops stormed into the city of Bethlehem arresting another two.

In June, the Israeli army arrested 340 Palestinians in raids on the West Bank.

The Israeli military, obviously, view border demarcations, and signs that you are now entering areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority as nothing more than cute little street decorations.

Such is their lack of respect for any semblance of sovereignty or authority the government of President Mahmoud Abbas – and such behavior will achieve nothing more than undermine his authority and play directly into the hands of Hamas – an organization they have spend two years trying to weaken.

We have also seen a suspension of talks for a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, and the Egyptians are still acting as if they are a client state of the US and Israel by keeping the Rafah Crossing locked down.

Its been said that unification between Palestinian factions is the only way to push forward with the peace process – divided, while not perhaps not entirely without some negotiating power - severely limits their effectiveness.


Watch "A Palestinian State - a dream, nothing more" and join the debate. Get involved.






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Sunday, 6 July 2008

Olmert - Fit to lead?

PressTV's Middle East Today takes another look at the leadership of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and asked the question: Is he fit to lead?


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is well known as a political survivor. But despite winning yet another reprieve after making a deal with his most bitter rival, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Olmert is literally hanging onto power by his fingertips.

Currently embroiled in a bribery scandal that could see him indicted on criminal charges, he is also the target of internal palace intrigues within his own coalition government.

With his approval ratings in single digits, the embattled Prime Minister has a lot to occupy his mind – so how distracted is he with his own survival – and how does that impair his judgment in his primary function – that of running the country.

Anyone watching this program is well aware that office intrigues around the water cooler are a distraction and diminish productivity. But imagine the impact when impaired concentration can have life and death consequences, rather than just ordering one too many boxes of copy paper.

Israel is currently embroiled in a simmering war of words with Iran, with Israeli politicians openly making threats to launch pre-emptive attacks to neutralize Tehran’s nuclear energy program.

There are the first tentative steps to engage Syria in peace negotiations – whether this is more for Israel’s immediate security needs or simply to isolate Damascus from Tehran is another question.

There are the prisoner swap arrangements with Hezbollah, expected to take place within two weeks. Hezbollah says the swap will include two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Olmert says he believes the soldiers are dead. If true, what will be the consequences?

If that wasn’t, there is the shaky ceasefire with Gaza – and the bulldozer attack in Jerusalem, that left four dead.

There is evidence to suggest that the man was acting alone. He did, however, come from the same village as the gunman who shot dead eight seminary students in Jerusalem al-Quds in March.

The Israeli government had just ordered the house of the gunman to be demolished, a continuation of Israel’s practice of collective punishment.

Olmert has already angrily expressed his desire that the home of the Palestinian who drove the bulldozer should also be destroyed.

Analysts believe news of the house demolition and the bulldozer attack are no coincidence.

So given the circumstances, is Olmert’s knee-jerk reaction the one of a rational man, in complete control of his faculties.

Is Olmert making strategic decisions that affect not only Israel but the entire Middle East after careful consideration, or in the face of pressure from his enemies – does he simply feel compelled to he simply feels the need to give the impression of a functioning government?


Watch Middle East Today's "Olmert - fit to lead?" and join the debate.






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Thursday, 3 July 2008

SOFA - Bruised but still in the game

PressTV's Middle East Today takes another look at the developments related to the fractious negotiations to establish a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq.

The clock is ticking on a proposed Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq.

Earlier this year, both sides appeared optimistic that a deal would be signed at the end of July. But as details of the agreement began to leak out – opposition to the deal exploded onto the streets of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq.

In its original form, Iraq would have been turned into little more than a semi-autonomous province of the United States. And a dangerous one at that, with more than 50 permanent bases for the US military and air force.

Iraq would have become a heavily armed outpost of American foreign policy, and with its nuclear armed ally, a stark reminder to any government in the region about who was really in charge in the Middle East.

Despite opposition to the SOFA deal, and obvious provisions that have had to be amended or dropped altogether, it is still on the table.

Officials have become a little more cautious in recent weeks about releasing too many details about what is exactly contained in the deal currently under negotiation. The media – including programs like Middle East Today – can be a real nuisance to policy makers trying to push through a policy that is unpopular with the people it will affect the most.

Washington claims to be striving to bring full democracy to Iraq. Interestingly, the Iraqi parliament went into session Tuesday July 1st to discuss the deal, while President Bush seems to be doing everything possible to keep this away from Congress. Does this mean they have succeeded in bringing democracy to Iraq at the expense of losing it at home?

But however watered down the SOFA deal may become, there is growing opposition to any deal at all. There are plenty Iraqis who simply want the occupations forces and their civilian security companies such as the notorious Blackwater Group out of the country.

And for them, sooner would be far more preferable to later.

Watch the discussion "Bruised but still in the game" and please, join the debate!


Featuring:


Maher Othman, Journalist (Al Hayat) and Media Consultant

Conn Halliman, columnist of Foreign Policy in Focus

Fmr Congressman Paul Findlay

Kamil Mahdi, Senior Lecturer, Middle East Economics, Exeter University


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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Gaza Truce & and Palestinian reconciliation

PressTV's Middle East Today delves into the potential for rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah following the Egyptian brokered ceasefire in Gaza.

It has been a difficult week for the truce between Hamas and Israel. Multiple reports of ceasefire violations, delays in the opening of the crossings into Gaza to release much needed aided to the one and a half million residents.

There’ve been disputes regarding the interpretation of the scope of the truce – prisoner exchanges and so on.

But having said all that, and against the predictions of many analysts, at the time of going to air, the truce still appears to be holding.

What we are going to look at in this edition, is what impact the questionable success of the truce could have on reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Any hope for a final status, two state solution as called for so many previous agreements, relies not only on Israel and the United States negotiating in good faith and keeping to their promises – but also to a unified Palestinian political entity to become the final recipients and signatories of any deal.

Analysts say there can be no deal until the Hamas-Fatah dispute is resolved.

Moves are apparently afoot to resolve that dispute. A possible meeting between exiled chief of the Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Mashaal and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas is being considered.

To discuss this sensitive issue we invited a guest from both sides of the political fence.

In Gaza, we had Ahmed Yousef, political advisor to the Hamas Prime Minister. And in Ramallah, was Moustapha Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

After coming away from watching this discussion, if you learn nothing else, you will discover that the two sides have far more in common than issues that separate them.

Watch Gaza Truce and Palestinian Reconciliation - and join the debate!







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