The Cable

Obama off to Mexico, Americas summit; economy, public safety, climate top agenda

President Barack Obama heads to Mexico tomorrow, and then on to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago Friday for the 34-nation Summit of the Americas. In a press briefing earlier this week, White House advisors, including NSC senior director for Latin America Dan Restrepo, outlined the agenda for the trip. Topping the agenda, they said, Obama's efforts to show U.S. reengagement with the hemisphere, the economy, and preventing the poorest of the poor from bearing the brunt of the economic crisis, public safety concerns throughout the hemisphere, and energy/climate issues.  

MR. RESTREPO:  ...At the moment, the Americas, the countries of the Americas, the United States included, face three baskets of shared challenges.  One ... is the economic crisis and how do we rekindle economic growth and ensure that that growth is equitable economic growth; that the -- that no segments of society are left behind as the hemisphere recovers from the current economic crisis. The second is the challenges of energy, our energy and climate future, and ensuring that we're moving to -- moving forward in partnerships to ensure our energy security and the climate future and ensuring that those two do not work in conflict with one another. And third is on the question of public safety.  If you ask -- if you conduct polls -- and people have -- the challenges, the principal challenge facing people in their daily lives throughout the Western Hemisphere, they will tell you it is the economy and it is public safety. And the President believes that we can at this summit -- looking forward and in a pragmatic way of how can we confront these challenges that we face together, how can we form dynamic partnerships with countries in the hemisphere who are willing to work with the United States and willing to work with one another, to come up with concrete proposals, to share ideas, to share practices that have worked in countries, understanding that there are differences from one place to the next, but creating the kind of flexible responses, not a one-size-fits-all solution, that can address these challenges that the hemisphere as a whole faces. ...

The Cable

Hostage taking

Worth reading: The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib on "What Iran says by jailing journalist" Roxana Saberi:

 ... This jockeying is going on amid the run-up to Iran's June 12 presidential election, which will determine whether the U.S. will be dealing with the enigmatic Mr. Ahmadinejad or the possibly more pragmatic opposition figure, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Hanging over it is the possibility the new Israeli government of incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may decide to take matters into its own hands with a military strike at Iran's nuclear facilities.

In the midst of all that, a journalist can be an easy target for signal-sending. That's likely what has happened with Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old Iranian-American journalist incarcerated in Tehran's Evin Prison and publicly charged by the Iranian government last week with espionage. ...The strange path her case has taken strongly suggests political maneuvering. ...

Spying is an easy charge to make against journalists, because what they do for a living -- gathering information, asking nosy questions -- can be made to look like espionage. And Ms. Saberi, a freelancer without the backing of a big international news organization, was particularly vulnerable.

What, then, might be the point of jailing a journalist, especially now? Obviously, it's the kind of move that chills internal dissent. ...Picking dual-citizen Iranian-Americans singles out people who are especially exposed to government action because of their Iranian citizenship, while also sending a signal to the U.S. ...

It also may be that hard-liners within Iran wanted to create precisely this kind of case to mount an obstacle to meaningful American-Iranian dialogue.

That's a problem for President Barack Obama, but he also has meaningful leverage. Many in the Iranian government do want a dialogue with the U.S. Mr. Obama recently sent them an important signal by implicitly indicating his policy won't be to push for regime change in Iran, but rather to deal with the government he gets there.

In return, the U.S. should get a lower level of paranoia among Iranian officials and security services. More broadly, the ground rules for the coming U.S.-Iran dialogue are being laid. It's a good time for the U.S. to make clear that jockeying for position by grabbing American citizens off the streets of Tehran won't be part of this process.

Seib notes that he spent a few days in Evin prison himself in 1987 but was released before being charged.