Friday, February 27, 2004

Schroeder in Washington

For the first time in two years, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is visiting the White House. He is expected to tell President Bush that "Germany will not deploy combat troops in Iraq, but will help in other ways such as schooling future Iraqi policemen in the United Arab Emirates and writing off Iraqi debt." He is also expected to "reaffirm his commitment to Afghanistan."

German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is visiting the White House for the first time in two years - a sign of improving relations following the Iraq war.

The issue of reconstructing Iraq is likely to be top of the agenda.

The two leaders will also discuss the Middle East and Afghanistan, where Germany has a high troop presence.

Both countries are taking a pragmatic approach to future relations, aware that there are still significant differences of opinion.

The main issues will be Iraq, the Middle East and the war on terror.

Gerhard Schroeder will tell George Bush that Germany will not deploy combat troops in Iraq, but will help in other ways such as schooling future Iraqi policemen in the United Arab Emirates and writing off Iraqi debt.

He will also reaffirm his commitment to Afghanistan, where Germany has nearly 2,000 troops.


Syria/Iran cooperation

Syria and Iran look to increase military cooperation:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad discussed "regional developments and cooperation between the Syrian and Iranian armies" with Iran's Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani on Thursday, the official SANA news agency said.

Assad and Shamkhani, who arrived in Damascus on Wednesday, "particularly looked at developments in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories, as well as relations between the two friendly countries," SANA said.

Syria and Iran, close regional allies, are both the targets of pressure and sanctions by the United States which accuses them of supporting "terrorist" groups.


Spain to lead in Iraq?

Spain might take over the multi-national military contingent in Iraq, currently lead by Poland, after July 1st.

Spain, with 1,300 men deployed in Iraq, is still pondering whether to take over command from Poland of the multinational force stationed there, Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said here Thursday.

"The Spanish government has taken no decision, whether to reinforce its contingent or take over the command," she said, speaking at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

A multinational military contingent in south-centre Iraq -- comprising troops other than those of the United States and Britain -- is currently headed by Poland until July 1.

The Spanish government, facing a general election on March 14, "is working with other NATO members because we consider it important for the Alliance to have a major presence in Iraq if so wished, and as long as it is organised in accordance with both the Iraqi authorities and the UN," she said.


Suleiman Hadad

Suleiman Hadad, "a Syrian legislator and a former assistant foreign minister", says the US should mind its own business and stop "meaningless interference in other countries' internal affairs." This statement was made after a State Department report criticized human rights abuses in Syria. Said Mr. Hadad: "the United States could not talk about human rights as it is an aggressive country, occupying a foreign land."

A Syrian legislator responded Thursday to U.S. criticism of its human rights record by saying the annual U.S. report containing the criticism represented a "blatant and meaningless interference in other countries' internal affairs".

Syria was one of more that 150 countries addressed by the U.S. state department report on human rights which covers numerous issues such as the state of democracy, freedom of speech and religion in countries around the world.

The report, released Wednesday, claimed Syria used torture, significantly, limited the right of free speech and assembly and allowed no political opposition.

Suleiman Hadad, a Syrian legislator and a former assistant foreign minister, told reporters that the United States could not talk about human rights as it is an aggressive country, occupying a foreign land.

He said there was no problem with human rights in Syria, which had embarked on a democratic process.


Egypt to guard border?

Israel has asked Egypt to take over border security between Gaza and Egypt when Israel pulls out of Gaza:

Israel has reportedly asked Egypt to take control of part of the Gaza Strip in the event of an Israeli withdrawal.

The idea was discussed when Israeli intelligence officials visited Cairo earlier this month, Israeli security sources were quoted as saying.

Under the plan, Egyptian forces would replace Israeli troops in a narrow corridor between the town of Rafah in Gaza and the Egyptian border.

[...]

Israel is concerned that the Islamic militant group Hamas will take over in Gaza if Israel withdraws, making the flow of illicit arms impossible to control.

Egypt is also reportedly worried that the spread of Hamas' power in Gaza will influence Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt and destabilise Hosni Mubarak's government.

Former Israeli Defence Minster Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Egypt had promised to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza if Israel pulled out, Israel radio reported.


Thursday, February 26, 2004

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wants election by the end of the year:

The leading Shia cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for elections by the end of 2004.

He said he wanted guarantees from the UN Security Council that there would be no further delays to the polls.

Ayatollah Sistani had wanted elections before the transfer of power to the Iraqis from the coalition on 30 June.

But a UN report published on 23 February said a "credible" vote could only be held at the end of the year at the earliest.

In a written statement, the Shia leader said the unelected government appointed after the transfer of power should have strictly limited powers and should focus on preparing for elections.

"The religious Shia authority wants the body that will receive power at the end of June to have extended powers in order to prepare transparent and free elections but also urges it to run the country without taking important decisions," the statement said.


"Hostile move"

It looks like the Chechens were right. Qatar has arrested two "Russian intelligence agents" and charged them with the death of Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, former President of Chechnya. Yanderbiyev was killed in Qatar by a bomb.

Two Russian intelligence agents have been charged in Qatar with the murder of Chechen rebel figure Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, local officials say.

The men were detained five days after Mr Yanderbiyev, wanted by Moscow for terror offences, was killed by a car bomb in the Gulf state's capital Doha.

Three Russians were initially detained but the third has been since released.

Confirming that the detainees are anti-terrorism agents, Russia condemned the arrests as a "hostile move".


Long standing...

The State Department calls India's democracy "long-standing, but flawed."

'Long-standing, but flawed' is how it has described India's democracy, which it said has been dogged by allegations of corruption influencing court decisions, violence in some elections and restrictions on religious and academic freedom.

The state department, in its annual report released on Wednesday, said tension between Hindus on the one hand and Muslims and Christians on the other remained a challenge to India's secular formation.

The leading party in the government coalition, the report noted, is the BJP, 'a Hindu nationalist political party with links to Hindu extremist groups that were implicated in violent acts against Christians and Muslims'.


Georgia to Russia: Deal with it

The President of Georgia has stated that Georgia plans to be "a close ally of the United States" and that "Russia will have to live with that fact."

The Republic of Georgia plans to be a close ally of the United States and its giant neighbor Russia will have to live with that fact, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said in an interview yesterday.

The newly elected president, who engineered the ouster of former President Eduard Shevardnadze last fall, was in a buoyant mood after what aides described as a "very warm" meeting with President Bush yesterday in the Oval Office.

"The relationship is based on shared values," said the hulking U.S.-trained lawyer, who emphasized the "kinship" and "chemistry" between Georgia and the United States during a meeting at Blair House with editors and reporters from The Washington Times.

Mr. Saakashvili said he had recently met for 4½ hours with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he found "nostalgic" over the demise of the former Soviet Union but desirous of better relations with his neighbors.

"They are getting used to our cooperation with the Americans and learning to live with it," Mr. Saakashvili said.

Almost every member of the new Georgian government has been trained in the United States, making the new leadership a natural ally of the West and the United States. Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, for example, is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas and of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

"Basically we speak the same language," Mr. Saakashvili said.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Uranium at Ukrainian border

A man with uranium has been arrested at the Ukrainian border:

Ukrainian border guards arrested a man trying to take nearly a pound of uranium into Hungary, border guard spokesman Yevheniy Bargman said. Guards arrested the driver of a van at the Tisa checkpoint after finding the material, he said.

It was unclear whether the uranium was in ore form or had been enriched for potential use in reactors or weapons. Bargman said the man told officials he was paid an unspecified amount by men at a nearby gas station to take the material into Hungary for use "by a dentist's office." It was unclear where the uranium originated.


Research and Analysis Wing

Indian intelligence may haved saved Pervez Musharraf from a third assassination attempt:

A tip-off by an Indian intelligence agency helped foil a third assassination attempt against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf earlier this month, a report said Wednesday.

The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) alerted Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) "in the first week of February" about an attempt on President Musharraf's life, a report said.

The intelligence information transmitted to the ISI was based on "communication intercepts" among militant groups opposed to Musharraf, the report said.

"The intercepts were passed on by RAW chief C D Sahay to his ISI counterpart, Ehsan ul Haq, enabling the latter to foil the third attempt on Musharraf's life," it said. The report gave no further details.

Musharraf escaped two assassination attempts last December.


Helmy Elsherief

Update: Helmy Elsherief, the Canadian who was being held in Egypt, possibly at the request of another country, has been released:

Helmy Elsherief says he's tired, eager to come home and wants to thank the Canadian and Egyptian officials who helped secure his release after 20 days of questioning by authorities in Cairo.

The 63-year-old sounded exhausted but elated yesterday as he spoke briefly with the Star in a telephone interview from his brother's house in Cairo, just a few hours after his release.

"I'm okay. I'll be able to better tell what happened with me when I get home," Elsherief said.

In earlier conversations with his wife and children, he said he had been treated well and that he was happy and healthy, but he did not go into details or the nature of the questioning, or why he was being held.


US base in Uzbekistan?

The US may open a military base in Uzbekistan:

The United States would consider using Uzbekistan for temporary military bases, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday during a visit to this Central Asian country, where there is growing pressure to end human rights abuses.

The Pentagon is considering moving bases from Western Europe as part of a global realignment of troops. Rumsfeld said there were no plans to establish permanent bases in Uzbekistan, but he suggested that "expeditionary bases" — temporary sites for use by U.S. and allied troops — might someday be situated there.

"We have been discussing with various friends and allies the issue of operating sites … a place where the United States and coalition countries periodically and intermittently have access and support," Rumsfeld said, singling out Uzbekistan as a "wonderful" ally in the administration's war and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. "What's important to us is to arrange [it] in a way and in places that are hospitable, where we have the possibility of using these facilities."


Rumsfeld on Syria, Iran

Donald Rumsfeld recently had some words for Syria and Iran:

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned Iran and Syria about militants crossing their borders into Iraq on Monday after meeting with the chief US overseer and his military commanders on plans to shift security responsibilities to Iraqis in the face of intensified attacks.

"Syria and Iran have not been helpful to the people of Iraq", he told journalists during a visit to Baghdad. "Indeed they have been unhelpful. "We know Iran has harboured al-Qaeda, we know they had people moving across the border. They were certainly aware of that." "We know Syria has been a hospitable place for escaping Iraqis" following the US-led invasion of Iraq last year, he said after visiting the Iraqi police academy during a day-long visit to Baghdad.


Zarqawi

"American troops distributing leaflets" in Iraq came across wanted terrorist Abu Musaab Zarqawi, who opened fire on them. The US troops returned fire, killing Zarqawi.

U.S. troops killed a lieutenant of suspected al Qaeda militant Abu Musaab Zarqawi, the military said yesterday, and Polish soldiers arrested nine suspects, including some believed involved in suicide bombings that killed 63 persons.

American troops distributing leaflets knocked on the door of a house in a western town Thursday, and the suspected Zarqawi associate, Abu Muhammad Hamza, opened fire from inside, the military said. The soldiers returned fire, killing Hamza, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

Three other men who tried to run from the scene were captured by Iraqi police and troops from the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, the military said.

In the house in Habbaniyah, soldiers found bomb-making materials and explosives — including a suicide bomber's vest rigged with a grenade and ball bearings — pro-Saddam Hussein literature and pictures of Zarqawi, Gen. Kimmitt said.


Polonium

Iran is caught in another lie:

Iran produced and experimented with polonium -- used in the timing of nuclear explosions -- some time ago, but says it was not used for such purposes, The Washington Post said Tuesday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will include Iran's experimentation with polonium in a report to be submitted this week at the United Nations, two people familiar with the report told the daily.

Iran has submitted to IAEA inspections to show the world it does not have nuclear weapons ambitions, but its dabbling with polonium coupled with the IAEA's discovery of components for an advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuge have raised serious doubts about Tehran's forthrightness.

Iran has acknowledged the experiments with polonium but has offered an explanation involving another of polonium's possible uses, including power generation.

The IAEA has left the issue "hanging there," one person familiar with the matter told the Post.

He said the experiments took place "some time ago," the daily added.

In addition, International Atomic Energy Agency has issued a new report regarding Iran's nuclear program:

In a confidential report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had not disclosed the full range of its nuclear activities as it said it had in October. Inspectors have found evidence of previously undisclosed nuclear experiments and secret work on advanced centrifuge machines.

The most serious concerns, the report said, surrounded the origin of traces of highly enriched uranium found at two locations and indications that larger quantities of the fissile material had been removed from one of the sites.

The presence of significant amounts of enriched uranium would be a strong indicator of experiments aimed at developing an atomic weapon, something Iran has denied doing.

In the report, the IAEA praised Tehran for cooperating in some areas, including opening nuclear-related sites on military bases to inspectors and promising to stop assembling centrifuge machines as part of a commitment to suspend its enrichment of uranium.

The IAEA report also confirmed publicly for the first time that Iran and Libya received substantial advanced technology for enriching uranium from the same black-market network of foreign sources.

The report did not identify the origins of the equipment and sensitive designs, but diplomats familiar with its findings said the global network operated by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan provided most of the technology to both countries.

[...]

The report, the agency's fourth since June, is "definitely the most hard-hitting," with information "that frankly had to be forced out of the Iranians," the U.S. official said. Iran said its October declaration to the IAEA of its nuclear capabilities, the official said, "was correct and complete, but this information makes it clear that it was neither."

Libya voluntarily terminated its program in December and acknowledged that it had tried to build a nuclear weapon for more than 20 years.

Khan confessed this month to providing nuclear secrets to Iran and Libya as well as North Korea. Although Pakistan has shared some information about the network with the United States and the IAEA, the report indicated that Islamabad had not yet been completely forthcoming.

Iran, for its part, is concerned about how much information Pakistan has shared with the international agency.

Mohammed Reza Aref, first vice president of Iran, left for Pakistan on Tuesday on what a foreign intelligence agency said was an attempt to discover how much of Khan's information the Pakistanis had disclosed.

"The Iranians need to know what ammunition has been provided to their rivals regarding their nuclear weapons program and their efforts to conceal it," said a written analysis prepared by the intelligence agency that was provided to The Times.

Just for good measure, Iran's "parliament" recently stated that " there would be no thaw in relations with the U.S."

Conservatives taking control of Iran's parliament offered a view Tuesday of what might lie ahead: sharp rhetoric toward the United States, a slowdown in the pace of social change and a stiff rebuff of Western concerns that Friday's elections marked a setback for democracy.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, the conservatives provided no specifics on economic policy, or whether they would reduce limited social freedoms enacted in recent years.

Conservative forces won at least 149 seats in the 290-seat parliament, with the ballot count continuing.

The leader of the main conservative coalition, the Developers of Islamic Iran, told reporters there would be no thaw in relations with the U.S. until Washington took the first step and recognized Iran's Islamic Revolution.

"We think that while America doesn't believe in the Islamic Revolution and doesn't accept it and doesn't hear the main message of Iran, which is independence, there will be no step [toward dialogue] taking place," said coalition leader Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Nikolai Svinarov

The Bulgarian Defense Minister, Nikolai Svinarov, thinks that NATO should be Iraq:

Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said Thursday he was "categorically in favor" of a NATO engagement in Iraq.

In an interview with AFP, he said: "I am categorically in favor of NATO's engagement in the operation in Iraq. There is no doubt this will happen, the question is to know when. Let's hope it will be soon."

He said a UN Security Council resolution was necessary for NATO to embark in Iraq and "a local government would seem to needed for such a resolution to be adopted."


KBR

The Pentagon has "opened a criminal investigation into a subsidiary of Halliburton over allegations of overcharging for fuel delivered to Iraq."

The Pentagon said Monday it had opened a criminal investigation into a subsidiary of Halliburton over allegations of overcharging for fuel delivered to Iraq.

The fraud investigation focuses on Halliburton subsidiary KBR, formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

"The Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the criminal investigative arm of the inspector general's office, is investigating allegations on the part of KBR of fraud, including the potential overpricing of fuel delivered to Baghdad by a KBR subcontractor," she said.


By 2004

The UN has suggested that elections could be held in Iraq by the end of 2004:

Iraq could hold its first free national elections in decades by the end of the year if work begins right away on a legal blueprint for holding the ballot, U.N. officials told Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a report released yesterday.

The timing and structure of the elections are seen as critical to the long-term legitimacy of the new Iraqi authority and to Bush administration hopes for a smooth transfer of power to a viable, democratic Iraq.

Mr. Annan said that with such a blueprint and proper security in place, elections could take place six months after the United States hands power back to the Iraqi people on June 30.

A fact-finding U.N. team sent by Mr. Annan to Iraq earlier this month was told that political agreement on the legal framework may be secured by May.

"In that case and provided that other conditions are met, elections could be held by the end of 2004 or shortly thereafter," the report said.

However, after more than 30 years of dictatorship, a ruined economy, a devastated infrastructure and the collapse of state institutions, conditions in the country "are daunting," the report cautioned.

It warned that the challenges of working out a legitimate political process that would lead to a democratically elected government "are enormous."


Salman Rushdie

The mad Mullahs who run Iran have "reaffirmed" the fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie.

On the anniversary of the fatwa issued by Khomeini in 1989 for the execution of Indian-born British novelist Salman Rushdie, the Iranian regime yesterday reaffirmed the need to execute “this irrevocable decree” and raised the prize for Rushdie’s head.

The paramilitary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said in a statement published in the state-owned Islamic Republic newspaper that “the sentence against this apostate and mercenary writer remains in force.” The statement added: “The author of Satanic Verses will burn in the fire of fury and vengeance of Muslims and will be punished for his vile and treacherous act.”

Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, a powerful cleric who runs the state-owned 15 Khordad Foundation, declared that the decree against Rushdie and the three-million-dollar prize his foundation had offered to Rushdie’s would-be executioner were still valid.


Bill Sampson

According to reports, Bill Sampson was jailed in Saudi Arabia for two and a half years. The Saudis accused him of planning a "fatal bombing." Now home in Canada, Sampson is suing the Saudi government.

Lawyers working for seven men who were kept in a Saudi jail for two-and-a-half years, including Canadian Bill Sampson, have begun legal proceedings in an attempt to sue Saudi officials they say were responsible for their torture.

Arguments in the lawsuit will be heard May 7 in Britain's High Court as the men try to establish that they have the right to sue Saudi Arabia's interior minister, the deputy governor of the jail in which they were imprisoned and their two torturers.

[...]

Sampson, who is originally from British Columbia, faced beheading after he was convicted in the fatal bombing that the Saudis say was part of a turf war between rival bootleggers.

Sampson and Briton Alexander Mitchell were sentenced to death, while Britons James Lee, James Cottle, Les Walker and Peter Brandon were given prison terms in connection with two bombings in late 2000 in which a British man, Christopher Rodway, was killed and four other people were injured.

A sixth Briton, Glenn Ballard, who was detained for 10 months but not charged, also is among those involved in the lawsuit.

Sampson's lawyers have said he was forced to confess after police beat him, hung him upside-down, kept him awake for more than a week and threatened to harm his family.

For two years, he was not allowed to read or write, and was even denied crayons and a calculator his father had sent him.


"Advisory opinion"

The International Court of Justice has begun to listen to arguments from Palestinian lawyers regarding the West Bank Security Fence. The Court is expected to offer an "advisory opinion" on the matter.

The US has submitted a "written argument" to the International Court of Justice, although the details of the argument have not been made public.

Israelis and Palestinians brought their arguments over Israel's controversial barricade in the West Bank onto neutral ground Monday, using a legal hearing to win support in the court of world opinion.

Legal debate over the barrier took place inside the Peace Palace, where the International Court of Justice meets. Outside the courtroom, grisly images of violence — from the blasted shell of an Israeli bus to photos of Palestinian children's bullet-torn bodies — competed for sympathy on the streets of this placid European capital.

The world court's hearing was a trigger for violent demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli troops — and dodged tear gas or rubber-coated bullets in return — during a day of coordinated marches.

They were responding to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's call to "make your voices heard."

"There cannot be peace and security between the two peoples, or in the whole region, as long as this racial segregation wall is being built," Arafat said.

In The Hague, Palestinian lawyers argued that Israel's 452-mile barricade of wire, military patrol paths and concrete tower blocks cutting through Palestinian land was a "wall," the foundation of a permanent border.

They said its construction amounted to an Israeli land grab that would make it impossible to patch together an eventual Palestinian state.

"Israel is continuously attempting to change the status, physical character, nature and demographic composition of that territory, most recently through the construction of the wall," Nasser Kidwa, head of the Palestinian delegation to the U.N. and an architect of the legal challenge, told the 15 judges in his opening remarks. "Israel cannot once again be permitted to continue its ceaseless taking of Palestinian property and rights."

The Palestinians are hoping that the United Nations' judicial body will heed a request from the General Assembly to deliver a nonbinding "advisory opinion" on the barrier's "legal consequences in the occupied Palestinian territory."

The Israeli government contends that the court has no business offering an opinion on something as vague as "legal consequences."

Its lawyers complain that the process does not refer to Palestinian "acts of terrorism" that make the barrier necessary. They are building a defensive "fence," the Israelis say, that can be removed should the suicide attacks end.

The Israelis weren't making that argument in court Monday, however. Ignoring several prominent voices inside Israel calling for the government to argue its case in The Hague, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the world court had no jurisdiction over a matter of national security — although Israel did submit a legal brief outlining its objections.

The U.S. and most European countries, which have reservations about the barrier but want the matter settled by diplomats, not judges, also submitted written arguments.


Monday, February 23, 2004

"Sympathy pay"

The US military has distributed 2.2 million dollars in "sympathy pay":

Anwar Kadhum, her husband, and four children were driving past an unmarked American checkpoint one August evening when soldiers without warning opened fire. "Don't shoot. We are family," Anwar recalls her husband yelling.

Twenty-eight bullets riddled the car, instantly killing Anwar's 20-year old son and her 18-year old daughter. Her husband and 8-year old daughter died an hour later in a local hospital.

US military officials gave Anwar $11,000 in "sympathy pay".

So far, the US military has paid out $2.2 million to Iraqi civilians in response to a flood of claims of wrongful or negligent injuries or death at the hands of US forces. In total, the military has received 15,000 claims, 5,600 of which it has accepted.

In distributing such payments, the military says they are not accepting liability or responsibility, and in fact no soldier has ever faced charges for illegally killing an Iraqi civilian. In some cases, victims must waive their right to take further legal action in order to receive the money.


"Hammer and anvil"

Pakistan is "preparing for a new operation along the Afghan border against al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects."

Pakistani forces are preparing for a new operation along the Afghan border against al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects.

Extra troops have been deployed "to plug the entry of undesired elements" the information minister says.

[...]

Pakistani intelligence officials say Bin Laden is not the immediate target of the current operation in the semi-autonomous South Waziristan region of North West Frontier Province.

But they hope to glean clues leading to his ultimate capture.

Troops have stepped up patrols in the area, and heavy guns and sandbagged bunkers are in place on key roads in and around the town of Wana, reports say.

"No offensive has been launched so far," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told the AFP news agency on Monday.

Local tribesmen have been given more time to hand over suspected sympathisers accused of harbouring militants.

Last week, the commander of US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan said an operation was being launched on both sides of the border.

Lieutenant General David Barno referred to a two-pronged "hammer and anvil approach".


Black Market

Iran has admitted that it bought nuclear equipment from the "black market":

Iran has acknowledged for the first time that it has bought nuclear equipment on the black market.

A foreign ministry spokesman said certain items were bought from international dealers, including some from the Indian subcontinent.

Hamid Reza Asefi did not say what had been bought or from what countries.

The admission follows recent revelations from Pakistan's top nuclear scientist that he sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Malaysian police said on Friday that agents for the Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had sold Iran $3m of centrifuge equipment in the mid-1990s.


Helmy Elsherief

An Egyptian-born Canadian man is being held by Egypt, possibly at the request of another country:

Conflicting reports as to why Egyptian authorities detained a Canadian citizen claim he is being held and questioned as a favour to a "foreign government" or because he is considered a threat to national security.

Sources familiar with the case say Egyptian-born Helmy Elsherief, 63, is being held under Egypt's emergency law and authorities allege he belongs to a "dangerous extremist element" — claims that kept another Canadian behind bars for more than two years before his release in Cairo last month.

But Elsherief's relatives in Cairo have been told Egyptian state security is "asking him a couple questions for a foreign government," according to his daughter Heba, 30 "They're being told they're holding him because of some foreign government, as a favour," she said from her Scarborough home yesterday.

She dismissed allegations her father is in an extremist group. "That's just crazy. My father can't get to the end of the street without driving his car. He has never been affiliated with any group ... his entire life."


Bus bombing

Suicide bomber kills 8 in Jerusalem:

A Palestinian suicide bomber blew apart a Jerusalem bus yesterday morning, killing himself and eight passengers on the eve of a United Nations hearing on the West Bank barrier constructed by Israel to foil such attacks.

The attack, which injured about 60 others, added new urgency to the claim of Israeli leaders that a matrix of fences, walls, barbed wire and trenches is needed to prevent terrorists from entering from the West Bank.

The strike diverted attention for the moment from Palestinian arguments that the Israeli barrier is an illegal land grab and is causing a humanitarian disaster.

"The terrible and painful bombing in Jerusalem is the answer to the world, which is convening in The Hague to pass judgment on the state of Israel," Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said.

"It's proved once again that the fence is situated to protect our lives."

Meanwhile, "pro-Israel demonstrators will carry eight blank posters through the streets of The Hague today, representing the victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem."

Pro-Israel demonstrators will carry eight blank posters through the streets of The Hague today, representing the victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem yesterday.

The posters will be carried alongside others with the faces of 927 victims of the 3-year-old Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

The march, which coincides with today's opening of a hearing on Israel's security barrier at the International Court of Justice, is the latest salvo in a high-powered propaganda war between supporters of Israel and its vehement critics.

Israel insists the barrier is a "good fence," whose aim is to prevent Palestinian attacks through suicide bombings and therefore provide a calmer atmosphere for discussions about a settlement.


Friday, February 20, 2004

Powder found

White powder has been discovered at a State Department satellite visa office:

A US State Department satellite visa office has been sealed after the discovery of a white powder, suspected to be anthrax, in an Indian passport.

An envelope containing the passport was opened at about 11 am on Thursday in the visa service unit on the seventh floor of a building in Columbia Plaza.

The powder spilled from between the Indian passport's pages, Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter said.

Officials sealed off the floor and briefly quarantined about 20 employees while preliminary tests were conducted on the powder. The tests found that the powder contained protein, leaving open the possibility that it could contain anthrax spores, Etter said.

The workers were allowed to go home after it was found that they had suffered no ill effects, but the seventh floor remained off limits, he added.


AQ Khan

AQ Khan, it has been reported, "transferred enriched uranium to Libya" and sold "centrifuge parts" to Iran for 3 million dollars:

Disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan transferred enriched uranium to Libya, according to a Malaysian police report.

Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, Dr Khan's alleged financier, said he was told around 2001 that the uranium was sent in a Pakistani jet, the report said.

Mr Tahir, a Malaysian resident, also told police Iran paid Dr Khan $3m for used centrifuge parts in the mid-1990s.


Asher Karni

An Israeli businessman is accused of being a "middleman in the nuclear black market."

An Israeli businessman accused of being a middleman in the nuclear black market worked to supply not only Pakistan but also India, US court records indicate.

South Africa-based Asher Karni faces felony charges of exporting nuclear bomb triggers to Pakistan. But court files in the case also include e-mail exchanges between Karni and an Indian businessman who was trying secretly to buy material for two Indian rocket factories.

[...]

Federal agents arrested him on New Year’s Day when he arrived in Denver for a ski vacation. Authorities accuse Karni of using front companies and falsified documents to buy nuclear bomb triggers in the United States and ship them to Pakistan.


Al-Qaeda "board of managers"

Iran has denied Spanish claims that it is harboring an Al-Qaeda "board of managers":

Iran's Foreign Ministry denied accusations by Spain's top anti-terrorist judge that the Al-Qaeda network has a "board of managers" operating in Iran, the IRNA state news agency reported.

"These declarations are without basis. Their sole aim is to create a media spectacle and they are not worthy of further comment," IRNA quoted an "informed source" at the ministry as saying.

The source said there was "no proof" to substantiate claims made by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who told El Periodico daily on Sunday that Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network had been restructured and had a "board of managers" working in Iran.

Garzon issued an international warrant for bin Laden's arrest last September, within the framework of an inquiry into a Spanish Al-Qaeda cell.


"Deep maneuvering"

Russia may have tested a missile system capable of eluding the US missile defence shield:

After two days of high-profile military exercises, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said Wednesday that Russia had successfully tested a new strategic missile system, a development that analysts said could allow nuclear warheads to avoid U.S. defenses.

Putin, who is seeking reelection next month, did not identify the system, which he said would allow "deep maneuvering" of Russia's long-range missiles.

Russian and U.S. military analysts said his cryptic description could mean that Russia has developed a "maneuverable reentry vehicle" — a technology under development for decades that could provide a rudimentary guidance system for intercontinental missiles and render them difficult or impossible to destroy.


Emergency landing in Delhi

A US Air Force plane has made an emergency landing in Delhi, India:

A US Air Force aircraft with 111 defence personnel on board made an emergency landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport here today after fire was detected in one of its engines, police and airport sources said.

The KC-10, mid-air refuelling aircraft, had taken off from the airport at 2.10 p.m. after refuelling when the crew noticed fire in the engine at 2.26 p.m., they said.

Full emergency was declared at the airport with fire tenders rushing to the tarmac to meet any eventuality, the sources said.

The fire was extinguished even as the aircraft was in the air and it landed safely around 2.42 p.m., they said. All the people on board were safely evacuated and the emergency was called off at 2.49 p.m., they said.

The plane, which had come along with F-15 fighter jets for participating in the Indo-US Cope-India-04 joint exercises in Gwalior, was en route to Anderson Air Base in Guam, the sources said.


Update on Yanderbiyev

Former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev was recently killed in Qatar. The Chechens blame the "Russian special services."

Qatar has arrested two suspects in the murder:

Qatar said today it has arrested two suspects in the assassination of former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev.

Yandarbiyev, 51, was killed Feb. 13 when a bomb ripped through his car. His teenage son was wounded.

The Interior Ministry said two suspects are being questioned in his death. No further details were available in the ministry statement, carried by the Gulf state's national news agency, QNA.

Yandarbiyev, Chechnya's acting president in 1996-1997, had lived in Qatar since 2000 and was wanted by Russian authorities for suspected terrorism and links to Al Qaeda. Moscow had been seeking his extradition.

His assassination occurred one week after a bombing in a Moscow subway killed 41 people and wounded more than 100. President Vladimir Putin blamed Chechen rebels for the bombing.

An aide to Yandarbiyev, Ibrahim Gabi, has blamed the Kremlin for Yandarbiyev's killing, a pro-rebel Web site reported.

Last year, the United Nations put Yandarbiyev on a list of people with alleged links to Al Qaeda. Washington also put him on a list of international terrorists subject to financial sanctions.

Yandarbiyev became one of the most prominent proponents of radical Islam among the Chechen rebels. During the hard-line Islamic rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Yandarbiyev opened a Chechen Embassy in the Afghan capital, and a consulate in the southern city of Kandahar.


CIA

The CIA has "removed its top officer in Baghdad" and " closed a number of satellite bases in Afghanistan."

Confronting problems on critical fronts, the CIA recently removed its top officer in Baghdad because of questions about his ability to lead the massive station there, and has closed a number of satellite bases in Afghanistan amid concerns about that country's deteriorating security situation, according to U.S. intelligence sources.

The previously undisclosed moves underscore the problems affecting the agency's clandestine service at a time when it is confronting insurgencies and the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, current and former CIA officers say. They said a series of stumbles and operational constraints have hampered the agency's ability to penetrate the insurgency in Iraq, find Osama bin Laden and gain traction against terrorism in the Middle East.

The CIA's Baghdad station has become the largest in agency history, eclipsing the size of its post in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War, a U.S. official said.

[...]

The U.S. official acknowledged that the CIA station chief in Baghdad was removed in December after weeks of increasingly deadly and sophisticated attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces and civilian targets.

"There was just a belief that it was a huge operation and we needed a very senior, very experienced person to run it," the official said.

The official declined to disclose the number of CIA personnel in Iraq, but other sources said it exceeded 500 people.


Jeremy Hinzman-AWOL

Jeremy Hinzman joined the US military because "the socialist structure of the military appealed to him." He is nowing living in Canada, AWOL from his military obligation:

A soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division who says he had "a romantic vision" of military life has left his post and is living in Canada, where he has sought refuge as a conscientious objector.

Jeremy Hinzman, a member of the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Brigade Parachute Infantry Regiment, could be prosecuted as a deserter if he is caught inside the United States.

He'll be listed on a national database and could be arrested, but the army won't go looking for him, said Sgt. Pam Smith, a spokesperson for the 82nd Airborne, based at Fort Bragg.

"We don't have time to go and track down people who go AWOL," she said. "We're fighting a war."

Hinzman, who grew up in Rapid City, S.D., joined the army in January 2001. He and his wife and baby fled last month to Toronto.

Hinzman told the Fayetteville Observer by phone that the socialist structure of the military appealed to him — he liked the subsidized housing and groceries and, at the end of his service, the money for college.

"It seemed like a good financial decision," he said, adding, ``I had a romantic vision of what the army was."


Thursday, February 19, 2004

Mohammad Reza Bahonar

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a "prominent conservative tipped as a possible new head of the Iranian parliament", says that "he is open to eventual talks with US legislators." Bahonar also opines: "The question of relations with the United States is not all black and white. There is an entire range of grey between the two...If there is a desire (from Washington) to build trust, we can move from dark grey to lighter grey. But for the moment, there is no trust."

A prominent conservative tipped as a possible new head of the Iranian parliament says he is open to eventual talks with US legislators after the expected rout of reformists in elections here Friday.

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, one of the top three politicians in the country's religious right wing, also denied plans to impose puritanical Islamic rule on Iran after the polls, but signaled a tough line against truculent reformists.

Bahonar made his remarks in an interview Wednesday with AFP as he campaigned in his native town of Kerman in southeastern Iran, whose two Majlis seats are presently held by reformers.

With the conservative camp expected to recapture the290 -seat legislature handily, Bahonar stressed an open, pragmatic approach to issues such as US relations or the obligation for women to wear a veil.

"The question of relations with the United States is not all black and white. There is an entire range of grey between the two," he said.

"If there is a desire (from Washington) to build trust, we can move from dark grey to lighter grey. But for the moment, there is no trust."

Iranian officials nixed a recent effort to organise a visit by a US congressional delegation to Iran while the reformers held parliament. But Bahonar did not rule out eventual talks between legislators of both sides.

"Dialogue is not bad in and of itself, but you can't allow one of the parties to try to impose its point of view," said Bahonar, considered a prime candidate to run the Majlis after the elections.

And meanwhile...

UN nuclear inspectors in Iran have found undeclared components of an advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuge at an air force base, diplomats say.

Correspondents say the find may be the first known link between Iran's nuclear programme and its military.

The UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, has declined to comment on the find.

The diplomats said the parts found were compatible with the P-2 centrifuge - a more advanced type than the model Iran has acknowledged using.

The daily USA Today reported that the machinery was found at the Doshen-Tappen air base in Tehran.

Can't the UN put it together?


Threats

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is threatening "foreign militants" by telling them that if they don't turn themselves in to the Pakistan Army, then they might be handed over to "other" countries:

Stepping up pressure on foreign militants, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday asked them to leave the country or surrender and pledged not to allow them to carry out their activities against any other country.

Foreign militants should leave Pakistan and go to their respective countries or surrender, said the general apparently referring to al Qaeda while addressing a gathering of religious scholars here. The government would not hand over the surrendered militants to any other country if they laid down their weapons and hand themselves over to Pakistan Army, he said, “failing which they will be dealt with full force".

“No foreigner should stay in Pakistan illegally," Musharraf said adding that most of the foreigners arrested or killed in operation in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan belonged to Uzbekistan.

“We will not allow them to act against any other country. I assure those who surrender, will not be given to any other country. We will deal with the foreign militants in accordance with our laws,” he said.


France and Germany do it again

France and Germany want the UN Security Council to vote on "the world body's role in Iraq." This could result in "delays in reconstruction efforts and in the planned hand-over of sovereignty this summer." The UN gets more irrelevant and obstructionist everyday.

France and Germany said Wednesday that a new U.N. Security Council resolution on the world body's role in Iraq would be needed, prompting U.S. concerns about possible delays in reconstruction efforts and in the planned hand-over of sovereignty this summer.

The U.S. has been urging the United Nations to take a greater role in Iraq, but a new resolution may set up a new confrontation between the United States and two leading war opponents. The new complications arise as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan prepares to issue recommendations on how a new Iraqi government should be selected.

Annan was expected to tell the Security Council today that direct elections were not possible before the scheduled June 30 power transfer but would be desirable by the end of the year. Additional recommendations based on a U.N. team's visit to Iraq this month are expected next week.

Bush administration officials said they feared that a debate over a new resolution could drag on long enough to force a postponement of the hand-over to a transitional Iraqi government. They also worry that it could provide the U.N. with enough leverage to force an overhaul of major infrastructure projects in the country, such as those for power plants and oil field redevelopment.


Another Kerry scandal?

John Kerry accepted 25,000 dollars in donations from a company called Science and Applied Technology Inc. Coincidentally, Kerry also wrote 28 letters in support of the company and a particular missile system it was developing. In addition, a portion of the 25,000 dollars that was given to Kerry by Applied Technology Inc. was done so illegally, according to federal prosecutors.

Sen. John F. Kerry sent 28 letters in behalf of a San Diego defense contractor who pleaded guilty last week to illegally funneling campaign contributions to the Massachusetts senator and four other congressmen.

Members of Congress often write letters supporting constituent businesses and favored projects. But as the Democratic presidential front-runner, Kerry has promoted himself as a candidate who has never been beholden to campaign contributors and special interests.

Between 1996 and 1999, Kerry participated in a letter-writing campaign to free up federal funds for a guided missile system that defense contractor Parthasarathi "Bob" Majumder was trying to build for U.S. warplanes.

Majumder's firm, Science and Applied Technology Inc., was paid more than $150 million to design and develop the program in the 1990s. But the program ran into some stumbling blocks at the Pentagon.

Kerry's letters were sent to fellow members of Congress — and to the Pentagon — while Majumder and his employees were donating money to the senator, court records show. During the three-year period, Kerry received about $25,000 from Majumder and his employees, according to Dwight L. Morris & Associates, which tracks campaign donations.

Court documents say the contractor told his employees they needed to make political contributions in order for him to gain influence with members of Congress. He then reimbursed them with proceeds from government contracts.

Federal prosecutors initially determined that $13,000 of the donations were illegally reimbursed, but they now say that nearly all of the money was tainted. They said there was no evidence Kerry or other members of Congress would have known that.

Asked what he did to repay the money, Kerry's campaign said Wednesday he had donated $13,000 to charity on Feb. 9 — which was two days before Majumder's guilty plea.


Hamas

Hamas is making plans to govern the Gaza strip if/when Israel pulls out:

Hamas and other militant groups are discussing the formation of an "emergency" government to take charge in the event of an Israeli evacuation of the Gaza Strip, said a leading Hamas spokesman.

Concerns that Hamas could step into a political vacuum in Gaza were on the agenda of a team of senior U.S. envoys who arrived yesterday to hear details of the Israeli "separation plan." The State Department and National Security Council envoys were scheduled to meet today with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has said that Israel might withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip if there is no progress on the U.S.-sponsored "road map" peace initiative.

Palestinian officials tried yesterday to calm worries about a pullout. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told the Belgian parliament that the Palestinian Authority is ready to take control of Gaza, and Jibril Rajoub, the top security aide to authority leader Yasser Arafat, said he had received assurances from Hamas' leaders that the Islamic fundamentalist group isn't planning a takeover.

But Ghazi Hamid, who as editor of a Hamas-controlled weekly newspaper speaks for the party, told The Washington Times that the existing Palestinian leadership is too weak to cope with the upheaval of an Israeli pullout."The [Palestinian Authority] cannot take responsibility in this situation and we should look to a new leadership that can run the situation," he said.


Popular election

Kofi Annan has decided that a popular election in Iraq would be impoossible before June 30:

UN chief Kofi Annan discounted elections in Iraq before US forces hand over control on June 30, a move that may anger the country's Shiite majority as the power debate heats up.

But Shiite politicians were not rushing to judgement on Annan's prognosis, while tensions on the ground are already high following a wave of violence this month that left more than 200 Iraqis dead.

In the latest unrest, insurgents hammered Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad with 33 mortar bombs and five rockets before US soldiers killed one assailant and detained 55.

"There seems to be general acceptance of the fact that it is not going to be possible to arrange an election between now and the end of June," Annan told Thursday's edition of Japan's biggest-selling daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Elections had to be properly organized and the conditions had to be right with security, and the political and legal instruments ready for the elections, the United Nations secretary general said.

"So I think the conclusion then will have to be that elections before the end of June may not be possible, but there will have to be better organized elections later on," Annan said at UN headquarters in New York.

Annan was due to meet later in the day with his special advisor Lakhdar Brahimi, who led a one-week fact-finding mission to Iraq and has already poured cold water on the Shiites' hopes of elections before June 30, when the US occupation is officially dissolved.

The country's leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has led the call for direct elections and protested against the US-led coalition transferring power to unelected officials.

UN political experts have warned that early elections could favour the more extreme elements in Iraq amid a growing row over the role of Islam in the nation's immediate political future.

Shiite council member Ahmed Shayyah Barak indicated Iraq's Shiites were open to compromise after meeting Sistani Thursday morning in the city of Najaf, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad.

"If the UN thinks it is better to hold election much later, then we have no objection to transfering power to an Iraqi body during a transitional period while finding a solution to the technical and security problems," Barak said.

Barak said power could be transfered to the Governing Council or another Iraqi political body after June 30 until elections can be held.

An Iraqi source familiar with the talks between the US-led coalition, UN and the Governing Council said a third option is partial polls in the north and south or transferring power to an enlarged Governing Council.


Red Cross against the security fence

The Red Cross wants Israel to stop building its security fence on the West Bank.

The International Committee of the Red Cross wants Israel to stop building the security fence through the West Bank because it says it breaches international law and is causing widespread harm to Palestinians.

Israel denounced the Red Cross's unusually public criticism as political, coming as it did days before a legal challenge to the barrier at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

The Red Cross said where the 200 kilometres of barrier already built entered occupied Palestinian territory it had resulted in widespread appropriation or destruction of Palestinian property.

"The barrier deprives thousands of Palestinian residents of adequate access to basic services such as water, health care and education, as well as sources of income such as agriculture and other forms of employment."

The IDF has at least 900 good reasons to build the fence. And the State of Israel has answered all of the questions regarded the fence. Maybe the Red Cross is more comfortable with this?


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Silski Visti

An anti-Semitic rant published in the Ukrainian newspaper Silski Visti has led to an order demanding that the paper be shut down. The order was issued by a Kiev court.

Ukraine's liberal and socialist opposition is in the center of a political storm after leaping to the defense of a newspaper ordered to shut down by a Kiev court for publishing anti-Semitic articles.

The incident highlights the tenuous position of the Jews in Eastern Europe after decades of repression, with undercurrents of anti-Semitism still running strong.

The Silski Visti newspaper, which has a circulation of more than 500,000 and is affiliated with the opposition Socialist Party, is being sued by the International Antifascist Committee for "encouraging racial hatred," because it published two articles by professor Vasil Yaramenko.

The author accused Jews of having organized the great Ukraine famine of 1933 that killed millions of people, and which historians blame on Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

He also claimed that Jewish agents made up 99 percent of the NKVD political police (later known as the KGB), which he said killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s and was run by a Stalin crony.

Mr. Yaramenko went even further, claiming that "400,000 Jewish SS" invaded Ukraine along with German troops during World War II.

For good measure, he attacked "Zionist oligarchs" (tycoons), including Viktor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.


Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently stated that Russia will seek its own missile defence shield and that it is developing "next-generation strategic weapons" that are "capable of hitting targets continents away with hypersonic speed, high precision and the ability of wide manoeuvre."

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the Russian military would soon receive next-generation strategic weapons and might develop its own missile defence.

Putin spoke after watching the launch of a military satellite from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia, which was part of a massive exercise of the nation's strategic forces. He travelled to the launch pad after watching naval exercises in the Barents Sea from a nuclear submarine.

"The experiments conducted during these manoeuvres, the experiments that were completed successfully, have proven that state-of-the art technical complexes will enter service with the Russian Strategic Missile Forces in the near future," Putin said in remarks broadcast by Russian television stations.

The new weapons will be "capable of hitting targets continents away with hypersonic speed, high precision and the ability of wide manoeuvre," Putin said, adding that the new weapons would allow the armed forces to "reliably ensure Russia's strategic security for a long historical perspective."

Putin wouldn't elaborate on the prospective weapons, but said that their development wasn't aimed against the United States. He said that he had informed US President George W Bush about Russia's latest military achievements, and added that the Russian military would provide more information to its American counterparts.

It seems like Putin might have some more immediate issues to concentrate on...


Cynthia Tucker

Cynthia Tucker, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes that the US should have invaded Pakistan instead of Iraq:

The simple truth is that the United States should be engaged in a grueling, long-term campaign against Islamist fanatics. But that sort of war would likely have entailed an invasion of Pakistan instead of the distraction of Iraq. Pakistan has done everything that Bush falsely claimed Iraq had done: it sheltered al-Qaida, and its scientists sold secrets and parts for making the mother of all WMD -- the nuclear bomb -- to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

She then goes on to say that such a invasion would cost thousands of American lives:

But a war against a nuclear power like Pakistan may have involved thousands of U.S. casualties. It would have been a real war.

Then she states that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea because it continues to "fertilize the soil with American blood."

Instead, Bush told us we'd stroll into Iraq, overthrow Saddam, implant democracy and watch it bloom throughout the region -- ultimately bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, the president still says that. (Yet, he continues to fertilize the soil with American blood.)

I'm amazed that someone could be for an invasion of Pakistan, which would cost thousands of US lives in initial combat, thousands of additional US lives during the following occupation, and run the risk that Pakistan would lash out with its nuclear weapons (toward India, no doubt) but be against the war in Iraq, which freed millions from a brutal, murderous dictator at a cost of only 374 combat deaths.


Human rights in Russia

Swedish Foreign Minister Leila Freivalds thinks that the US and the EU "must make common cause in confronting Russia over lapses on human rights."

Swedish Foreign Minister Leila Freivalds said yesterday the United States and Europe must make common cause in confronting Russia over lapses on human rights and relations with its neighbors.

The planned expansion of the European Union with 10 new members this spring will bring the bloc to the borders of Russia. Mrs. Freivalds, who met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Washington yesterday, says Moscow has attempted to impose new conditions and restrictions on its relations with the enlarged European Union.

"So far, Russia has been playing games with us, and that's not acceptable," she said.

Mr. Powell offered muted criticism of Russian domestic and foreign policy during a January meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and Mrs. Freivalds said EU leaders are trying to formulate a new strategy for dealing with Russia.

"The United States and the European Union have to work hard to cooperate on Russia," Mrs. Freivalds said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We share some values, and we are not sure that Russia today shares those values."


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Fisking the CSM

The CS Monitor comments on the present political discourse:

In the take-no-prisoners politics of today's presidential campaigns, bio-digging can be very tempting.

It can also be very distracting.

Democratic Party leaders have started a media frenzy about apparent gaps in the National Guard service of a younger George W. Bush. It's an old issue and may never be resolved for his critics. But it serves John Kerry's purpose of highlighting his service in Vietnam, with the implied message that he's more of a trustworthy leader.

Bio-digging has its uses as a character reference, but the Vietnam War was at least seven wars ago for Americans, in two of which a more mature Bush served as commander in chief. The Democrats' real concern is that Kerry might be vulnerable on the "security issue."

Will voters prefer Bush or Kerry in the task of eliminating Al Qaeda and preventing more 9/11s? Bush has a clear and debatable record in the war on terrorism, guided by a forward strategy that includes Middle East reform, preemptive attacks (Afghanistan and Iraq), and spy work.

Democrats would do better if they focused on an alternative vision. Kerry's already said the US must work more with the United Nations, for instance, and talk directly with North Korea on its nuclear threat. But he could say more and be more specific when putting forth statements such as this: "The war on terror is occasionally military, and it will continue to be for a long time ... but it's primarily an intelligence and law-enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

And exactly how, with the US military still needed to prevent chaos in Iraq, would Kerry's ideas in this statement work: "We need a new Security Council resolution to give the United Nations authority in the rebuilding process and the development of a new Iraqi constitution and government."

Bush, too, could be more specific. When, for instance, will he decide that his moribund "road map" for Palestinian-Israeli peace isn't working, and try something else? The answer is critical to reshaping the Middle East.

It should be pointed out, however, that the "road map" was not written by Bush alone, if at all. The EU and Russia helped to write it and agreed with the end product. They too have a responsibility in its implementation. To call the "road map" a product of Bush's policy alone is utterly false. The "road map" was a multi-lateral step by the international community--which Bush cooperated with.

But didn't John Kerry tell me that Bush's "foreign policy approach as overly unilateral"?


EU to boost military budget

The EU is going to boost its military spending by 2 billion euro a year. Former NATO Chief George Robertson recently called the EU a "flabby giant", ill-equipped "for dealing with tomorrow’s crises." Will this new money help?

The EU may be ready to boost its spending on defence and security by as much as two billion euro a year.

According to the Independent, the plan would mean that the EU spends as much as the recently formed US Department of Homeland Security.

The plans are part of proposals which have been drawn up for Enterprise and Research Commissioners, Erkki Liikanen and Philippe Busquin.

The Independent writes that money could be pumped into intelligence sharing, surveillance and efforts to combat bio-terrorism.

The proposals also says that money should be spent on the technical backup for military operations and policing the EU’s borders.

"The main responsibility for external security will rest for the foreseeable future with member states. However, national governments will only be able to tackle the new security challenges if they combine their efforts", says the document.

The US has continuously lambasted Europe for not pulling its weight as far as security expenditure goes.

Former NATO Chief George Robertson notoriously referred to Europe as a "flabby giant" when calling on leaders to pool defence expenditure to boost its military capabilities.

"This European continent...is still a flabby giant with huge military expenditure, enormous paper armies, large amounts of equipment, all of which are completely useless for dealing with tomorrow’s crises", he remarked.


All the way to Timbuktu

Was AQ Khan trying to mine uranium in Timbuktu?

The London accountant who accompanied Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan to Timbuktu on three occasions in 1998, 1999 and 2000 says the 'father' of the Pakistani bomb witnessed the digging of a well, toured an ancient Islamic library and enjoyed the views of the desert.

A remote outpost in the middle of the West African desert, Timbuktu usually attracts explorers associated in the popular mind with the adventures of the comic character Tin Tin.

And Pakistani dissidents told rediff.com the reason for Khan's visit to Timbuktu, part of landlocked West African state of Mali, was to prospect for uranium.


Wake up call?

Syria is trying to change its image in Washington, but the effort seems to be failing:

Syria has launched a diplomatic campaign aimed at canceling its membership in the Bush administration's "rogue" nations club. But the United States and its key allies remain cool, unconvinced that the overtures amount to anything more than lip service from a government that remains fundamentally hostile to U.S. interests.

The question for the Bush administration is whether Syria can be persuaded to follow Libya's lead in renouncing terrorism and giving up any weapons of mass destruction it might have.

The answer is a matter of some urgency in this campaign year, because a new U.S. law will trigger economic and political sanctions against Syria in May — unless Secretary of State Colin L. Powell certifies that Damascus is making progress toward meeting American demands or President Bush waives the sanctions on national security grounds.

The guessing game in Washington is how long American patience with Syria will last if Bush is reelected. With the administration's hands full with Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea, no one expects the U.S. to put military pressure on Syria before the November presidential election.

[...]

Syria was not named by Bush as an "axis of evil" nation, though in the past it has been routinely mentioned in the same breath as Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya as nations suspected of fitting the two criteria deemed most dangerous to U.S. interests: possession of weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorists to whom such weapons might be transferred.

Syria is, however, the only one of the "rogue" nations with which the United States has normal diplomatic relations and daily contacts. The problem is that those contacts seem to be leading nowhere, State Department officials said.

"There's a lot of frustration with the Syrians," said one official who requested anonymity. "Basically, there's the feeling that the clock is ticking on Syria and they need to heed the wake-up call."


Bremer on Islamic law

Paul Bremer has stated that he will not allow Islamic law to become the "backbone" of Iraq's new constitution:

Iraq's U.S. administrator suggested yesterday that he would block any move by Iraqi leaders to make Islamic law the backbone of an interim constitution, which women's groups fear could threaten their rights.

During a visit to a women's center in Karbala, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said the current draft of the interim constitution, due to take effect at the end of the month, would make Islam the state religion and "a source of inspiration for the law" — but not the main source for that law.

However, Mohsen Abdel-Hamid, president of the Iraqi Governing Council and a Sunni Muslim hard-liner, has proposed making Islamic law the "principal basis" of legislation.

Mr. Bremer was asked what would happen if Iraqi leaders wrote into the interim charter that Islamic Shariah law is the principal basis of legislation. "Our position is clear," he replied. "It can't be law until I sign it."

Mr. Bremer must sign all measures passed by the 25-member council before they can become law. Iraq's powerful Shi'ite clergy, however, wants the interim constitution to be approved by an elected legislature. Under U.S. plans, a permanent constitution would not be drawn up and put to a vote by the Iraqi people until 2005.


Monday, February 16, 2004

Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev killed

Former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev has been killed in Qatar. The Chechens blame the "Russian special services."

Former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev has been killed in an explosion in Qatar.

The satellite TV station al-Jazeera said Mr Yanderbiyev's car was hit by a blast in the capital, Doha.

Two of his bodyguards were reportedly killed and his teenage son, Daud, is said to have been seriously injured in the blast.

Yanderbiyev was mentioned on a UN list of groups and people with suspected links to the al-Qaeda organisation.

A hospital spokesman said Mr Yanderbiyev was leaving a mosque after Friday prayers in Doha's northern Dasma district when the blast occurred.

A spokesman for the Chechen rebels, Movladi Udugov, has accused the Russian special services of involvement in the blast.

But Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has denied any involvement.


Hu

Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Eygpt:

China’s President Hu Jintao has completed a four-day official visit to Egypt, during which he discussed Middle East tensions with President Hosni Mubarak.

Hu departed from the southern airport of Luxor on Sunday, after spending two days visiting the ancient city.

The Chinese leader, who arrived in Egypt after a four-day state visit to France, next visited the central African state of Gabon, then Algeria.

Hu, on his first visit to Egypt since becoming head of state last March, stressed during his visit what he called “the need to impose peace and security in the Middle East.”

Officials traveling with Hu and their Egyptian counterparts signed several cooperation agreements, including on technology and oil exploration in Egypt.

Egypt and China signed a “strategic partnership” agreement in 1999.


Iraqi special tribunal

Will it take two full years to try Saddam?

Iraq's deposed dictator Saddam Hussein is unlikely to stand trial for at least another two years, the Guardian has learned.

The Iraqi special tribunal for crimes against humanity is months away from hearing its first case, and when the trials begin in October or November the first defendants to appear will be high-ranking Ba'ath party officials.

Muhammad Zimam Abd al-Razzaq al-Sadun, the former Ba'ath party chairman and commander of the militia in Baghdad, was reported to have been captured yesterday, bringing the number caught since US authorities issued their "most wanted" deck of 52 cards to 44.

"I think it will take two years to get to Saddam being tried," said Salem Chalabi, one of the architects of the court and a nephew of the influential Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.


Joint air exercises

India and the US have recently begun "joint air exercises":

In the biggest-ever fighter maneuvers, India and United States today commenced a ten-day joint air exercises over the Gwalior skies pitting the IAF against one of the most hi-tech forces in the world.

In the combat exercises codenamed 'Cope India 04', the Pacific Command of the US Air Force will pit its F-15C air superiority fighters against the Indian Air Force's Mig-21, Mig 29 and Sukhoi-30 fighters as well as Gwalior based Mirage 2000 fighter in simulated Beyond Visual Range Combat, high value asset protection and a number of the low and high altitude combat missions.


Khan

AQ Khan has reportedly had a heart attack:

Pakistan's top scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan involved in clandestine nuclear sales to rogue states has reportedly suffered a heart attack.

"Dr. Khan is under treatment at his residence and his condition is stated to be critical," a local daily quoted officials of the hospital of the country's premier nuclear installation, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) formerly headed by Khan, as saying.

It said in view of his "poor cardiac" condition, a heart specialist along with a cardiac machine was "secretly" sent to the nuclear scientist's residence.

Khan had been suffering from pain in his left hand since he was questioned by intelligence agencies for the past few months for his alleged involvement in transferring nuclear technology, The Dawn daily said.

Also, Khan has apparently refused to turn over certain documents that the Pakistani government has demanded of him. In addition, Khan has smuggled documentation out of the country that would "demonstrate that senior Pakistani army officials — including President Pervez Musharraf — were aware of Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear proliferation activities."

The scientist behind a worldwide black market in nuclear technology is involved in high-stakes brinksmanship over his future, refusing to hand over reportedly incriminating documents demanded by Pakistani authorities.

The documents and a tape-recorded statement, which are said to demonstrate that senior Pakistani army officials — including President Pervez Musharraf — were aware of Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear proliferation activities, are believed to have been smuggled out of the country for safekeeping by the scientist's daughter Dina.

Pakistani intelligence officials said Mr. Khan first agreed to surrender the documents in return for a blanket pardon but has failed to do so. They believe his daughter is prepared to disclose their contents if legal action is brought against him by the country's military government.

Mr. Khan, 68, a national hero in Pakistan, remained under house arrest in Islamabad over the weekend, and restrictions on his movement were being tightened.

More than a week after Gen. Musharraf granted the scientist clemency after he confessed to selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, he is still in legal limbo. Pakistani officials say he faces 24-hour surveillance for the rest of his life.

The country's foreign office confirmed that the pardon granted to Mr. Khan was conditional. "It is not a blanket pardon. It relates only to his television confession," said Massoud Khan, a spokesman.

The pardon was granted on the grounds that Mr. Khan "had cooperated with the investigation begun by the Pakistani government in November last year, and that he will continue to cooperate."

It would not extend to any activities that may yet be revealed as the investigation into Mr. Khan's actions continues. The spokesman said that the scientist should accept that the security restrictions would continue "indefinitely."

He added: "What we have ensured is that he and his network of associates would never again be able to operate. They have effectively been demobilized."

Intelligence officers, however, said that the scientist remained resistant. "The government has been trying to retrieve the documents since Mr. Khan was offered a presidential pardon last week, but they are yet to receive them, even though he promised," one official said.

The official said the government had originally decided to negotiate a deal with Mr. Khan only after it discovered that his daughter had left Pakistan with the potentially incriminating material.


Friday, February 13, 2004

Texas Air National Guard

Regardng the controversy surronding Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, I think the following documents pretty much clear it up:

First off, a letter from Col. William Campenni, who served in the Guard with Bush.

Next, an article in Time includes the following paragraph (clearing up an oft repeated claim against Bush):

Bush was told to report to William Turnipseed, an officer in the Montgomery unit. "Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not," Turnipseed told the Boston Globe four years ago. "If we had had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered." But by last week Turnipseed's memory had grown cloudy. "I did say in 2000 that I didn't remember seeing him," Turnipseed, now 75, told TIME. "But after I said that, I backed up and realized I didn't even remember if I was on the base in 1972 or not." Turnipseed said he was so busy checking out new airplanes outside Alabama and training, "I couldn't even follow football." He also noted that he voted for Bush in 2000 and plans to vote for the President again this year.

Lastly, in this interview Lt. Col. John "Bill" Calhoun states that Bush was indeed in Alabama serving his time in 1972. Calhoun knows because he was in Alabama too, serving along side Bush.


Judge Baltazar Garzon

A Spanish judge has started an investigation to determine if any Spanish companies "were involved with supplying nuclear equipment to Libya."

A Spanish judge has opened an inquiry to determine if Spanish companies were involved with supplying nuclear equipment to Libya, The Independent reported.

An ardent and vocal opponent of terrorism, Judge Baltazar Garzon dispatched a team of investigators to London to work with British intelligence on the possible links.

Garzon first became interested last summer when Spanish intelligence officers uncovered exports of machinery and equipment supposedly destined for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

However, the trade ministry insists no Spanish company is suspected of supplying centrifuges that could be used for the enrichment of uranium "either to Libya or any other country from which there is any risk of it being diverted to another destination."