Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on Iran nuclear deal an opportunity that requires follow-up:
Proponents of the Iran nuclear deal are calling it "a victory for diplomacy." That very much remains to be seen; certainly it is a premature judgment. The same is true of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's dark prophecy that the deal is "a historic mistake."
The real significance is that the deal was done at all, thanks to the relentless diplomacy of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his ability to keep our fractious allies in this endeavor — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — on the same page.
Of only slightly less importance is that the U.S. and Iran talked substantively for the first time in decades, thanks in part to the departure of its bellicose former president, Mohammed Ahmadinejad, and his replacement by Hassan Rouhani, who claims he wants to end Iran's pariah status.
The deal reached last weekend is an interim arrangement that the parties could easily end at any time; however, it does buy six months during which the parties can begin the much harder task of reaching a long-term treaty.
Reaction on Capitol Hill was mixed, with members of both parties expressing concerns that the interim pact would allow Iran to continue to enrich any uranium in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran's nuclear program for the relief it is receiving," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said. "Given Iran's history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on-the-ground verification.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced legislation that would require Iran to fully comply with the interim agreement and would prevent Obama from waiving additional sanctions unless Iran meets certain conditions for an acceptable final agreement. Corker said skepticism is widespread and Congress should hold the administration's "feet to the fire" to ensure the interim agreement does not become permanent.
The deal could collapse if Congress, goaded by Israel, passes tougher sanctions during the life of the interim agreement. Such action would be premature. The interim pact is neither a diplomatic victory nor a grave error; it is an opportunity.
If Iran thumbs its nose at the world and violates the agreement or fails to negotiate in good faith toward a permanent pact, the administration and our allies will need to restore all sanctions and perhaps take further action. In the meantime, all parties should give diplomacy a chance to work.
The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., on battling the bad-news bugs:
Public health menaces originating in such disparate places as Asian slums and American hospitals are proving very difficult to eradicate even though they kill tens of thousands of victims a year.
Obamacare isn't the only health care issue that needs attention.
The Haitian cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 9,000 and sickened 715,000 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic since it broke out in 2010 has now spread to Mexico, and it could possibly cross the border into the United States.
Evidence of the disease has also been found in Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands.
That epidemic has its origins in Bangladesh and was very likely transmitted to Haiti by a United Nations peacekeeper from Nepal billeted at a camp where sewage wastes spilled into streams used as water supply by Haitians. The U.N. is being sued in a U.S. federal court case seeking financial compensation for victims.
Cholera can spread rapidly in countries with poor sanitation. The last time it reached Mexico, in 1992, it was not eradicated until 2002. That time the epidemic was stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border. But the U.S. might not be so fortunate this time. Likening cholera to the plague, Ebola and pandemic influenza, Dr. Edward Ryan of Massachusetts General Hospital told National Public Radio, "It is one of the ones that tests the (public health) system."
Unfortunately, a recently developed vaccine against cholera is not widely available.
Another threat comes from drug-resistant "superbugs," bacteria that have evolved immunity from available antibiotics.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in September that more than 2 million Americans are infected by these bacteria every year and that they cause 23,000 deaths. It announced that three of these bugs were "particularly frightening," and said that finding cures should be considered "urgent." ...
Solutions must be found to these mounting menaces.
The administration and a divided Congress should be paying attention to the problem, and providing support to public health and research agencies, as needed.
Kansas City Star on loosening White House constraints on photographers:
When 38 major independent news organizations find it necessary to protest a White House policy in unison, the president has a problem. And so it is for the Obama administration.
With increasing frequency, the White House is shutting out independent news photographers from recording key presidential events. While the press is excluded, White House photographers roam the meetings, distributing images on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
It's no surprise the government shots are flattering. And there is no certainty the pictures are accurate depictions of the mood of meetings.
For that reason, the president and his administration must put an end to excessive reliance on closed meetings. National security matters may legitimately dictate privacy, but many other gatherings recently closed were public business and should have been available to independent press photographers.
Obama entered office promising new transparency. This shift to more closed-door activities does not comport with that promise and threatens to create an Obama legacy of increasing isolation. A president taking a dive in public polling does himself, and the nation, no favors by stonewalling the press on such basic matters as photographer access.
The protest letter signed by The White House Correspondents' Association, the Associated Press, CNN, Fox, McClatchy (owner of The Star) and many other leading journalism groups arrived before Thanksgiving. It's past time for the administration to open up and renew its commitment to public accountability.
There is a place for paid White House photographers. But independent photographers work to record history from all angles, not just those favored by the White House.
Chicago Tribune on China making trouble with Japan:
Asia is 13 years into the 21st century, but the conflicts of the 20th and 19th centuries are anything but history. Last week, China imposed air-traffic rules for a section of the East China Sea that includes a set of barren islands taken from it by Japan in 1895.
That step induced a reaction not only from Japan but from the United States, whose defense treaty with Tokyo was an outgrowth of its victory in World War II. The Pentagon sent a couple of B-52s over the islands while pointedly refusing to notify Beijing, a signal that the U.S. is not giving up its position as the premier military power in the Pacific.
Those in power in the two capitals don't want to resort to hostilities. Unfortunately, they also don't want to relinquish their claims to any territory, no matter how outwardly insignificant it may be. So each side feels obliged to rattle sabers to make sure everyone knows they will fight if necessary.
The conflicting claims are not new. What's new is that China is resolved to expand its military might and that Japan is determined not to be pushed around. This quarrel is part of a broader and longer-term contest for influence and control in the region.
This is where the U.S. comes in. It has encouraged China's integration into the world economy and its help in solving international problems, like North Korea. It also has a military alliance with Japan, as well as bases in the country. So it has some leverage with each.
Washington has long declined to take a position on the ultimate resolution of the disagreement over these islands. But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that they are covered by the mutual defense treaty. In other words, if the Chinese elect to use military force, they will invite war with the U.S.
Vice President Joe Biden presumably will reinforce that message when he visits Beijing this week, warning the Chinese that unilateral attempts to alter the status quo are likely to backfire by frightening neighbors and inducing them to band together against China. During a stop in Tokyo, he said, "This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation." But he was also expected to advise Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government not to let its nationalistic bravado lead it into rash actions.
China's desire for an Air Defense Identification Zone is not inherently outrageous. Japan and South Korea already have their own. The U.S. has its own as well, extending out from our coastlines. But Beijing's sudden and unexpected muscle-flexing in a disputed area suggests aggressive designs that can't be ignored.
It isn't about to start a shooting war, though. The more plausible danger is that as Japan and China will engage in more military patrols in the area, they increase the possibility of miscalculations and accidents that could lead to bloodshed.
So Washington should press the two to settle on procedures to prevent such surprises. It should encourage them to sit down and look for ways to accommodate their differing interests in the islands. Most of all, it should remind them that if either pushes the other too far, both will be the losers.
Arizona Republic on IRS should keep its mitts off 'political activity':
It remains beyond dispute that there is much wrong with American campaign-finance law.
So much of the so-called dark money. So little disclosure. Political campaign finances have entered a "black ops" stage in which tens of millions of dollars are being spent each year by faceless organizations.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, we seem to know little about activist organizations and less about the people cutting the checks. The sum of such ignorance is a terrible weight on the integrity of American elections. How can we possibly know our candidates when we have little clue who is spending money to support them?
We can think of just one thing worse than the current state of campaign-finance affairs, and that is having the Internal Revenue Service propose "fixes" to the system.
The IRS has created new rules governing "political activity" as they apply to non-profit organizations designated with a 501 (c)(4) status. Among several changes, this "initial guidance" from the tax-collecting agency would forbid certain communications by the non-profits during an election cycle, especially those that identify a certain candidate.
In addition, the IRS definitions governing "political activity" would include voter-registration drives, grants to political groups, events touting a certain candidate and distributing material on a candidate's behalf.
There are problems with this. Let's move from the less obvious ones to the painfully clear ones.
However well-intentioned, such rules tread dangerously close to inhibiting free speech, especially as that speech has been defined by the high court in Citizens United.
The greater problem, however, is the widespread concern that such rule changes in fact are not well-intentioned but constitute yet another IRS attempt to throttle conservative non-profit groups.
The investigations into the IRS' years-long campaign of harassment of "tea party" non-profits are still ongoing. The entire trail of responsibility for the agency's malicious behavior has not yet been uncovered — although we know now that it extends far beyond the handful of "front line" personnel in Cincinnati who initially were served up for sacrifice.
Perhaps some time in the (likely distant) future, the IRS can claim some neutral ground from which to issue ground rules for non-profit groups conducting political activity. That time is not now.
There are threats to the integrity of the American system of elections. And then there are threats.
"Dark money" in our elections is a real threat. Even in a world in which ruthless activists use their opponents' donor lists to harass contributors simply for the "crime" of participating in politics, disclosure is vital.
Just as vital, however, is the expectation that the great machinery of the federal government should not be abused from within for partisan advantage.
Between 2010 and the 2012 presidential election, a handful of liberal-oriented non-profit groups were briefly inconvenienced by the IRS before being approved and sent along on their happy way. Meanwhile, hundreds of conservative groups were held up for months and years. Some still await IRS approval.
Whatever one calls that, it is not the behavior of a politically neutral organization.
Neither is it the behavior of an agency that, at this point, should be making rules governing "political activity" of any kind.
The Telegraph, London, on outrage in Egypt:
When the Egyptian military took control of the country in the summer, it did so in the name of restoring order. Under Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies, Egypt had indeed become alarmingly unstable. Yet the generals' conduct has made matters far, far worse.
The initial crackdown on the Brotherhood was carried out with a brutality that turned much of Cairo into a war zone, sending the international community into paroxysms of indignation. Since then, things have not improved. In a powerful report yesterday, our correspondent Richard Spencer described how 14 women and seven girls from Alexandria have been jailed for 11 years for participating in a Muslim Brotherhood protest.
Whatever your political stance, this was an outrageous decision. Many of the women were imprisoned on only the scantiest of evidence: one, as we reported, claimed to have been taking a walk with her daughter, as recommended by her doctor as treatment for a heart condition. Even if the women were indeed involved in a protest - which ended peacefully and with only the most minor property damage - handing such a harsh term to girls who are legally underage is a decision that many, within Egypt and without, will find repellent.
The new regime in Cairo obviously cares, on some level, what the outside world thinks of it: its embassy in London recently took this newspaper to the Press Complaints Commission to object to some of our reporting (a ruling yesterday found conclusively in our favor). In which case, Britain and the rest of the West should make clear that such behavior is not only unjust, unfair and uncivilized, but risks inflaming tensions in Egypt to an even more dangerous level.
China Daily on acts for Biden's reference:
US Vice-President Joe Biden was correct when he said in Tokyo on Tuesday, there is "the need for crisis management mechanisms" for the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, because, as he pointed out, "the prospect for miscalculation and mistake is too high".
So he has plenty of things to straighten out while he is in Beijing, on the second leg of his three-country Asia trip.
First of all, despite trying to present the image of being an impartial mediator, Washington has obviously taken Japan's side. Turning a blind eye to Tokyo's provocations, the root cause of the tensions, the United States is wrongly pointing an accusing finger at China for "unilaterally" changing the "status quo" in the East China Sea.
Biden, with his diplomatic record, is believed to be Washington's best bet as a crisis-defuser, but he should not expect any substantial headway if he comes simply to repeat his government's previous erroneous and one-sided remarks.
He should listen carefully to the Chinese side of the story, and our leaders should make sure their American guest leaves Beijing better informed about the causality of the East China Sea dispute.
Again, our timely visitor needs to be told: It is Japan that has unilaterally changed the status quo. From its regular patrols of the Diaoyu Islands to the establishment of its new ADIZ, China is just responding to Japanese provocations.
If the US is truly committed to lowering tensions in the region, it must first stop acquiescing to Tokyo's dangerous brinkmanship. It must stop emboldening belligerent Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to constantly push the envelope of Japan's encroachments and provocations.
Most important of all, Biden needs to be reminded that Japan holds the key to peacefully solving the East China Sea dispute, because it is the Abe administration's recalcitrant denial of the existence of a dispute that has prevented Beijing and Tokyo from conducting meaningful communication and crisis control. From the very beginning, Beijing has demonstrated a consistent preference for shelving differences.
Contrary to the Japanese and US allegations, our ADIZ was actually intended to reduce misjudgments and avoid possible conflicts, and the so-called threats to civilian flights are just Abe's crazy hyperbole aimed at deflecting blame.
Instead of echoing Japan's illicit request that we rescind the ADIZ, Biden should try to enlighten the Japanese that it can actually become what our Defense Ministry envisages: "a zone of cooperation, not confrontation".