World News Brief, Friday May 20

Barack Obama gives major speech on US Middle East policy; Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow; Japan has fallen into recession following quake and tsunami disasters; China announces problems with world's largest hydroelectric dam; Strauss-Kahn quits IMF post but maintains he is innocent; and more

Top of the Agenda: Anticipation for Obama's Mideast Speech


U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a high-profile speech to set the tone for U.S. policy toward the Middle East and North Africa (FT) and reflect upon the recent wave of grassroots uprisings in the region referred to as the "Arab Spring." Insiders expect the president to expand on his plans for aid to Egypt and Tunisia, ramp up rhetoric on Syria, and reinforce U.S. support for the general democratic fervor gripping the Arab and Islamic world.

Senior administration officials said the president will present a fresh vision for the region as the United States draws down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and marks the death of Osama bin Laden. Officials claim the United States is "turning a page," and the democracy movement (Guardian) reinforces this.

In a media conference call on Wednesday, the White House said the aid package to Egypt and Tunisia (al-Jazeera), particularly the debt-relief plans, will provide much-needed cash flow to two economies beleaguered by unemployment, inequality, and structural problems. However, questions remain as to how Obama will address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the festering violence in Yemen and Bahrain--where critics have denounced inconsistencies in U.S. policy.

The president's speech will also serve as an entrée to days of upcoming discussions and debate over U.S.-Israeli policy (NYT) and the issue of Palestinian statehood. Obama is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, and then address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday.


Obama has embarked on a flurry of Mideast diplomacy amid mounting questions about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and U.S. policy in the region.

David Ignatius from the Washington Post searches for a new narrative for the Mideast, offering a comparison between the present situation and the French retreat from Waterloo in 1815.

On his CFR blog From the Potomac to the Euphrates, Steven A. Cook offers predictions and insight into Obama's upcoming speech to the Arab and Muslim world.

On, Nathan Brown writes the Arab Spring wasn't the revolutionary tidal wave that many had predicted--but it wasn't a complete wash either, noting that in his speech, Obama can help preserve its most significant gains.


This video from the New York Times presents op-ed columnist Roger Cohen's hopes for President Obama's Middle East peace efforts.


PACIFIC RIM: Disasters Drag Japan Back into Recession


    The Japanese economy contracted much more than expected for the first quarter, falling into recession (Guardian) after its triple disaster. Most economists forecast a return to growth in the second part of the year with supply chains restored and reconstruction kicking in.

    China: Officials in Beijing announced the Three Gorges Dam (AFP) has caused a bevy of problems that require urgent attention, including environmental, social, and geological issues. At a cost of $22.5 billion, the world's largest hydroelectric dam began generating power in 2008.

    - Attempts at U.S.-Pakistan Rapprochement
    - Strauss-Kahn Quits IMF Post

    This is an excerpt of the Daily News Brief. The full version is available on