The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed the Arab League summit in Baghdad; President Obama’s visit to the Denuclearized Military Zone (DMZ) on the Korean Peninsula as part of his visit to the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul; the presidential election run-off in Senegal; and the Pope’s trip to Cuba.
- Baghdad is set to host the Arab League Summit for the first time in two decades. The summit is taking place against a backdrop of a series of deadly bombings across Iraq. Al Qaeda’s Iraq wing has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks saying that they were aimed at undermining the security measures for the conference. The Iraqi government has mobilized as many as a 100,000 troops to help keep the peace. The line-up at the Arab League Summit will look much different than in recent years. Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are all under new management, and Syria won’t be there at all. Its Arab League membership has been suspended in the wake of the Assad government’s crackdown on protestors.
- President Obama visits South Korea this weekend to attend the second Nuclear Security Summit, which is set to run three days and bring together fifty-three heads of state, including Chinese President Hu Jintao. Before Obama sits down with Hu, however, he will visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) separating North and South Korea and then hold a press conference with South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak to discuss the economic benefits of the U.S.-Korea-Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect last week. It is the largest free-trade agreement South Korea ever signed, and the largest for the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) two decades ago. Obama and Lee will also be discussing North Korea. On February 29, the Obama administration agreed to send 240,000 tons of food to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s pledge to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to inspect North Korean nuclear sites and suspend nuclear tests, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment. But that pledge didn’t last long. Last week, North Korea announced plans to launch a rocket with a satellite on April 15 to honor the hundred-year anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s birthday.
- Senegal holds a run-off presidential election on Sunday. President Abdoulaye Wade is seeking his third term in office. But here’s the rub. Wade signed a law back in 2001 that bars Senegalese presidents from serving more than two terms. Senegal’s Constitutional Court ruled back in January, however, that the law did not apply retroactively to his first term. That decision led to violent political protests across the country. Senegal held the first round of its presidential vote back on February 26. Wade picked up 35 percent of the vote, and his main challenger, former prime minister (and Wade protégé) Macky Sall, picked up 27 percent. Experts worry that if Wade wins the run-off, political violence could engulf Senegal. That could threaten Senegal’s standing as “one of the most stable and mature democracies in Africa.”
- Pope Benedict XVI is set to visit Cuba this week. The Vatican says that the Pope’s visit could help promote democracy in the communist country. It also says that the U.S. embargo on Cuba is “useless.” The Pope is scheduled to meet with Raul Castro, and he may also meet with the ailing Fidel Castro as well. The Pope then heads for Mexico. I expect the crowds there to be big and enthusiastic, although the polls tell me I’m wrong. But while the Pope is in the neighborhood, he won’t be stopping in the United States. He did visit New York and Washington back in 2008 on his first and only visit ever to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Voice of America notes that the Arab League summit will be a test for the war-torn city of Baghdad, and the Los Angeles Times reports on the attacks that led to forty-six deaths just a week before the summit. In South Korea, Obama is likely to talk up U.S.-Korean economic and military ties—the visit falls almost exactly two years after the sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan. The Wall Street Journal previews what Obama might say on North Korea and Iran while in Seoul, and Bloomberg outlines how campaign politics are shaping his agenda in South Korea. The BBC profiles Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, and Azad Essa believes the presidential election proves Senegal is a functioning democracy. CFR’s Julia E. Sweig recounts the "frozen U.S.-Cuba relationship," and Reuters details the Vatican’s condemnation of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.