Omar Samad

 

Afghan Envoy Expounds On Conflict Resolution

In the shadow of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rapid retreat from Kabul to Washington, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Paris underscored what he described as his country’s long-standing reliance on peaceful resolution of conflict. “Components” of the Obama administration’s strategy need tweaking, Omar Samad said in a meeting with Association members on June 22 at his embassy. Overall, however, his outlook seemed more optimistic than subdued.

 Although never using the word “surge,” Samad stressed the need for a program that would “create space for Afghans to take charge,”  and stated there would be “no withdrawal unless Afghan forces are on their feet.”  He referred to the profound antipathy that his people feel towards extremist-type Taliban, noting that surveys show only 4-6% of the population are “in favor of” the Taliban.

 Samad referred to his family’s long-standing commitment to Franco-Afghan relations, saying his father and one of his grandfathers had also been envoys to Paris.  Samad himself fled the country in mid-’79, fearing for his life, he said, as Soviet-trained Afghan forces unleashed a reign of terror that wiped out intelligentsia, technocrats and all the human resources necessary to build a stable government in the era that followed the Soviet army’s departure.  “Creating a new functioning system [now] is so difficult,” he observed.

 Another major drawback in Afghanistan’s recovery was the arrival of people from all over the Muslims world. This coincided with the rise of the Taliban, a process which, he said, has been identified in a report by the London School of Economics as being a Pakistani investment in the “most radicals.”

 Samad frequently referred to the need to invest in education, which he called “capacity building,” as well as to establish good governance and build infrastructure.  He pointed out that the so-called London conference of earlier this year would reconvene in Kabul at the end of July to discuss funding pledges.  He mentioned Japan’s $100 million commitment to increase the country’s hydro-electric capacity, an effort that would both create jobs and fight insurgency.

 Questioned about a campaign remark made by candidate Barack Obama that moderate Taliban could be brought into a coalition government, Samad held that “you can’t ‘Talibanize’ Afghanistan,” adding:  “I’m in favor of making ‘coherent’ adjustments as long as they make sense.”

 100_0767The session at the embassy began with Afghan tea; it concluded with informal discussions with Samad, his wife, and his wife’s American mother, who joined our group.

 www.ambafghanistan-fr.com

John Davidson


A Look Inside the NYPD

AAPA member and Newsweek Paris bureau chief Christopher Dickey's critically acclaimed book "Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force -- the NYPD," is now out in paperback and as an e-book from Simon and Schuster. Picked by the New York Times as a notable book of 2009, this widely acclaimed and highly readable narrative shows how the New York City Police Department met the the threat after 9/11. It offers convincing proof that the job of stopping the bad guys from mounting new attacks is better left in the hands of cops and spies rather than armies of occupation.

For more about this and other books by Dickey, visit the Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Dickey/e/B000AQ05WC/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1dickey


John Morris

AAPA member John G. Morris received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the May 10 "Infinity Awards" dinner of New York's International Center of Photography, attended by 600. The awards honor nine members of the photographic community each year. The award for photojournalism went to the Paris-based freelance Reza. The top award to a photographer, named for ICP founder Cornell Capa, went to the black South African photographer Peter Magubane who, after enduring more than 500 days of solitary confinement in the apartheid regime, has published a dozen books and worked close to Nelson Mandela.

The award to Morris was presented by Christiane Amanpour, who has recently switched from CNN to ABC. She first introduced a short documentary film tribute, which concentrated on the major events of the 20th century which Morris covered in one way or another -- D Day for Life magazine, the Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination for The New York Times, and many others, for the Times, for Life, Ladies' Home Journal, Magnum, The Washington Post and National Geographic.

Morris, whose career in photojournalism began in 1938 as a Hollywood correspondent for Life, terminated his brief acceptance speech with "Finally, I should like to thank the President of the United States, who is restoring my faith in America."

2Pictures John Morris & ChristianeJohn was accompanied by his old friend and new companion Patricia "Pat" Trocmé, widow of the French diplomat Jean Trocmé. From New York they went on to Washington, visiting friends and museums.


Heisbourg

Iran’s growing nuclear ambitions, the Israeli-Turkish incident, South Korea’s response to the sinking of its ship in the Yellow Sea and Obama’s posture on nuclear non-proliferation were just a few of the topics covered when one of France’s pre-eminent foreign-policy thinkers met with AAPA members at the home of member John Morris on June 9.

 Heisbourg, who was a guest of the Association on three previous occasions, described Iran’s current capability as a “reasonably developed industrial basis for weapons”, but said the Iranians were incapable of making significant “step changes” upward to the next level.

 He observed that several regional countries would follow Iran’s lead if it went nuclear; but Tehran might also mimic Israel’s stance of never officially admitting its nuclear capabilities.

 According to Heisbourg, the Eastern-Med Israeli-Turkish incident has critically harmed relations between the two countries, which Israel needed more than Turkey.  The relationship is “beyond retrieval,” he felt, adding that the Marmara boarding “casts doubt on the Israeli leadership’s ability to think clearly.”  And Turkey had been “Israel’s biggest foreign-policy catch in 20 years.”

 Meanwhile, the new Turkish foreign minister has managed to repair relations with virtually all its neighbors in just six months as part of a deliberate let’s-get-along policy that Ahmet Davutoglu has been implementing.  Heisbourg also hailed Turkey’s 2001 decision, taken in the midst of a monetary crisis, to become “a big economic player,” calling it a success.

 In good neighborliness, Russia may be taking a leaf from Turkey’s book, he said, pointing to resolution of the long-standing issue with Norway about the Barents Sea.  With Poland, Moscow had carefully remained quiet about the black boxes following the crash that had decapitated Warsaw’s cabinet. 

 Heisbourg replied stoically when asked his view on the situation in Afghanistan:  “Mountainous,” he observed.  He now tends to accept the assessment of U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal in terms of troop deployments and the withdrawal timetable.

 On the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, he stated, “I accept the dream” of the NPT and its Article 6, saying that “ultimately we have to go to a nuclear-free world.” The U.S.’s “reset” with Russia was “good news”, he felt, noting that with 90% of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the two powers, it was up to them to begin significant draw-downs.

 Heisbourg praised the way South Korea had handled the sinking of one of its naval vessels, taking the high road of an independent inquiry similar to what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had recommended for the Gaza relief-boat incident. 

 Heisbourg 006In other observations, he scoffed at the U.S.’s intelligence capabilities, pointing out that it was spending $30 billion a year on the effort:  “I have very little patience for American intelligence assessments,” he said.  His concluding remark was cautionary indeed:  “A multi-polar Middle East is,” he said, “a recipe for use of nuclear weapons.”

-By John Davidson


Noam Chomsky

MIT Prof. Emeritus Noam Chomsky told a standing room audience of some 50 Anglo-American Press Association members and guests Friday evening, May 28 that the Obama Administration's continuation of Bush Administration policies has been no surprise for him and that Europeans seem to like President Obama simply because he is more “polite” about pursuing the same basic policies.

 Chomsky 008Former AAPA President Rony Koven introduced Chomsky, at the home of member John Morris, as “America's chief gadfly.” Painting an often bleak picture with flashes of humor, Chomsky, 81, answered a wide range of political questions, touching on US handling of the economic crisis, immigration policy, Middle east policy, press freedom, and recent history back to  Vietnam.

 Chomsky, in Paris for a series of lectures on linguistics and politics, stressed the role of corporations in influencing everything from Obama policies to the media. He said he remains convinced of the thesis of his 1988 book on the media, “Manufacturing Consent,” that journalists are influenced by a "bought priesthood" of government and private interests. But he also said his views are more nuanced than often depicted and defended the reporting of working journalists on quality outlets like The New York Times as honest and professional, despite corporate oversight.

 Humanity's two main problems, he said, are nuclear proliferation and the environment, neither of which are being seriously addressed by Western governments. By depicting climate change as a lie, "Their [corporate] propaganda campaigns are working," he said.

 In the to-and-fro with members after his 90-minute presentation, he urged his friends to vote for Obama “while holding our noses." He said he understands that the Tea Party movement and right-wing talk radio hosts offer logical-sounding, if wrongheaded, answers to troubling questions the Democrats haven't dealt with effectively. The Tea Parties are quietly financed by corporate interests, he said.

 Traditional moderate Republicanism is “gone,” replaced by a centrist Democratic mainstream that has shifted rightward, he said. He repeatedly likened today's US to Germany's interwar Weimar Republic, toppled by Hitler in 1933, expressing worry that a skillful right-wing demagogue could take power.

 Europe, he said, is far more racist than America's "immigrant society," while recalling, for example, that in the 1950s, Harvard's limits on Jewish faculty explained how the MIT could become a great institution, thanks to willingness to hire people like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson and himself.

 The Association's increasingly frequent format of such no-cost, informal interchanges with newsmakers, with drinks and snacks brought along by members, seems to be drawing growingly enthusiastic participation.

 -By Rony Koven


Harriet Welty Rocherfort

french-toastAfter more than ten years in hardcover, Member and former Officer Harriet Welty Rochefort's first book, "French Toast," (St. Martin's Press) is being published in a paperback edition with new introduction in June 2010. Meantime, she reports her son, David Rochefort, has written his first novel, "La Paresse et l'Oubli," which was published in January 2010 by Gallimard in the nrf collection.


Angel Gurria

Providing colorful, detailed and newsworthy responses to questions, Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD, met once again with a dozen of us over breakfast at his Paris headquarters May 19, focusing mainly on the world economic crisis, and notably Europe.

 Gurria noted that, while China and the U.S. were experiencing recovery, China growing by 11%, the outlook for Europe was mediocre, marked by continuing high unemployment and government deficits, amid prospects for growing protectionism worldwide.

 Commenting on speculation that the euro might be abandoned by Greece and possibly other EU members, he praised the euro's role among EU members as "positive." But he warned that the euro zone still lacked effective mechanisms for surveillance and control over governmental behavior on economic and financial fronts, and credible capacity for anticipating future crises. New models for economic growth, notably for Greece, are also needed, he urged.

 Gurria also explained why and how membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development now stood at 34 governments; and that six were partners seeking full membership: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa.

 Providing insights to upcoming world economic meetings, including the next G20 summit in June, Gurria said that he would be raising these and other points at the upcoming meeting of the annual OECD forum and ministerial council meetings in Paris May 26-28. Details for those interested in attending are available at www.oecd.org/oecdweek

 Axel Krause


Finance Minister Makes News At The AAPA

L1000573Finance Minister Christine Lagarde made headlines when she talked to over two dozen AAPA members on April 13 in an annexe of the Finance Ministry. The timing was excellent, as Lagarde had spent the previous weekend on the phone with her euro-zone counterparts to hammer out details of a  recovery package to help Greece out of its debt crisis. Lagarde told us  the Greek plan could serve as a template should it ever become necessary to come to the aid of another euro-zone state.  She talked about her proposal to better regulate trading in exotic financial instruments that she said are causing volatility in commodities markets, and gave us the low-down on discussions among the Group of 20 countries on taxing banks.  

-By David Pearson


Florence Aubenas brings passion to prison reform

fa3It was one of those rare, friendly, informal meetings with a top French journalist: Florence Aubenas, the prize-winning war correspondent and former hostage in Iraq, whose best-selling book Quai de Ouistreham, recounts her six months living as a lower-class cleaning lady, notably on an English ferry boat.

A dozen members spent two hours with her at Member John Morris' Marais apartment March 15, talking about her book, the realities and risks of being a foreign correspondent, and what it's like being both a journalist at Nouvel Observateur and president of France's leading NGO promoting reform of the nation's prison system.

The French media largely ignore the day-to-day lives of those living in constant jobless precarity, she explained, which inspired the idea for the book.

Regarding the delicate issue of paying ransoms for hostages, and without providing details of her own release in 2005 after several months of captivity in Iraq, Aubenas said that France's policy is the opposite of U.S. policy and does in fact pursue negotiations.

The final phase of the evening, graced not only by John's hospitality but the beverages and snacks volunteered by those who attended, covered a wide range of questions related to the reform of French prisons and her ability to be a journalist and an advocate.

"My position at the OIP, the Paris-based International Observatory of Prisons, is not political,” she said, “and involves being devoted to improving human rights...a devotion I apply in journalism and in my writing."

---Axel Krause


Renault's P. Pelata talks to AAPA

Renault COO Patrick Pelata
Renault COO Patrick Pelata

Renault's Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata spilled a few beans and created news when he met with the AAPA over breakfast on Dec. 17 at the auto maker's headquarters. Pelata disclosed that Renault is talking to other companies including Germany's Daimler AG and some in China about possible collaboration in making key car components.. He explained how Renault is trying to emerge fit and healthy from the unprecedented crisis that hammered  the global automobile industry over the last 18 months. "We're trying to understand what went wrong, and to identify our weak spots," he said.

-David Pearson