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JFP 9/28: Afghan Peace Talks Fail Without US Withdrawal Timetable
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 28 September 2011 - 3:09pm
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September 28, 2011
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On October 6, Let's Make a National Clamor for Peace
On October 7, 2011, the United States will have been at war for ten years. Let's mark the occasion by making a national clamor for peace so loud that Congress, the president, and big media will have to pay attention. By making a national clamor for peace on October 6, we'll pre-empt the media narrative that Americans don't care about the wars.
*Action: Cut the War Budget, Not Medicare Benefits
Last Monday, President Obama announced his latest proposal for reducing future government deficits. The President proposed to cut Medicare spending by $248 billion over ten years, but the President's proposal doesn't include one dollar of new cuts to the Pentagon's budget for war. Urge the President and your representatives in Congress to cut the war budget, not Medicare benefits.
Gareth Porter: How McChrystal and Petraeus Built an Indiscriminate "Killing Machine"
Gareth Porter destroys the claim that US night raids in Afghanistan are "precisely targeted" against "insurgents."
Matthieu Aikins: U.S. Backing of Afghan Warlord Violates Leahy Amendment
Although the State Department has documented allegations of human rights abuses by Abdul Raziq, the U.S. continues to arm and train his forces in Kandahar, in violation of the Leahy Amendment.
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1) Major media claimed that the assassination of Berhanuddin Rabbani, Chair of the Afghan High Peace Council, "struck a body blow to the peace process," notes Gareth Porter in Al Jazeera. But because the U.S. still refuses to countenance a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, there was no real "peace process." In January, the Taliban said they regarded the High Peace Council as serving solely "cosmetic" purposes as "part and parcel of the American war strategy," noting that the HPC "do not consider the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan ... as an important item of the agenda…If the peace council wants, in earnest, to usher in peace in Afghanistan," the Taliban said, it should confront the Americans on "whether they are ready to respect and accept a solution based on a pullout of their forces from Afghanistan."
2) Supercommittee members not ruling out counting a trillion dollars in savings from the currently planned drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Hill reports. Meanwhile, 70 members of the House, including four Republicans, called on the supercommittee to find even more in military savings by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan altogether.
3) The U.S. threat last week that "all options" are on the table if the Pakistani military doesn't cut its ties with the Haqqani network of anti-U.S. insurgents was meant for domestic U.S. consumption to deflect attention from the spectacular failure of the U.S. war strategy, reports Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. A source close to the policymaking process on Pakistan doubted that there was any planning for military action against Pakistan in the immediate future. Despite the tough talk about not tolerating any more high-profile attacks on U.S. troops there is no expectation that anything the U.S. can do would change Pakistani policy toward the Haqqani group, Porter writes.
4) Many Pakistanis blame Pakistan's alliance with the U.S. for Pakistan's victimization by terrorism, the Washington Post reports. Since 2001, there have been 335 suicide bombings in Pakistan. Before 2001, there was one.
5) The Obama administration's decision to deliver GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators, commonly known as bunker-buster bombs, to Israel in 2009 was a mistake insofar as it increases Israel's ability to initiate a war with Iran, writes former U.S. intelligence analyst Paul Pillar in the National Interest. Even more serious is that providing the bombs could be interpreted as a green light to go to war. Even more serious than that is that the use of U.S.-made bombs to initiate war with Iran would accentuate association of the U.S. with any Israeli action and intensify the resulting damage to U.S. interests.
6) Israel announced plans for 1,100 new housing units in an area of South Jerusalem outside Israel's pre-1967 boundaries, rejecting Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement construction as a condition for peace talks, the New York Times reports. The Gilo area was conquered in the 1967 war, along with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Israel later annexed it to the city of Jerusalem, a step that has never been recognized internationally.
7) In a letter to President Obama, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka noted that fifteen union leaders have been murdered since the Labor Action Plan between the U.S. and Colombia went into effect in April, writes Colombia Reports. Trumka urged Obama to not send the Colombia-U.S. trade agreement to Congress for approval until the Colombian government addresses human rights violations against trade unionists.
1) Did the Rabbani hit really kill peace talks?
Rabbani could not offer the Taliban the one condition needed for a peace agreement - the full withdrawal of US troops.
Gareth Porter, Al Jazeera, 26 Sep 2011 13:53
Did the Taliban assassination of Berhanuddin Rabbani, the Chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, bring a potentially permanent end of peace talks in Afghanistan?
You would have to believe that, based on media coverage of the event. The New York Times reported that the assassination had "struck a body blow to the peace process", and that theme dominated almost every story. Most stories included quotes from Rabbani supporters such as one in the Times article declaring: "The peace process is finished."
Dexter Filkins was more emphatic, opining in the New Yorker that the Rabbani assassination was a "blow to the very idea that reconciliation with the Taliban is possible - or even desirable." It could even be "the opening shot in the civil war that more and more Afghans believe could follow on the heels of the American and NATO withdrawal", Filkins wrote.
But this storyline is based on the premise that Rabbani and the High Peace Council had been offering the Taliban a good faith effort to negotiate a peace settlement. In fact, what Rabbani was offering was the same thing Gen David Petraeus had offered to the bogus Quetta Shura official a year earlier: A discussion that could not possibly resolve the overriding issue for the Taliban, which is the indefinite presence of US and NATO troops in the country.
The only program for the Taliban Rabbani had embraced as Chairman of the HPC, in fact, was "offering amnesties and jobs to Taliban foot soldiers and asylum in third countries to leaders", as Reuters reported September 20.
The Taliban leaders had never believed that the HPC was intended to negotiate a political settlement. On January 12, 2011, the Taliban declared on the website of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that they regarded the High Peace Council as serving solely "cosmetic" purposes as "part and parcel of the American war strategy".
The article cited, in particular, the fact the HPC "do not consider the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan ... as an important item of the agenda".
More concretely, the Taliban complained that the HPC did not "follow a roadmap that would lead to a decisive stage where peace and reconciliation will become ... indispensable".
That was an apparent reference to a proposal dubbed a "road map" to a settlement by four former Taliban officials, including Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, an early leader of the Taliban movement who spent two and a half years in the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.
The "road map" proposal assumed that the United States would have to play the key role in any negotiations. It called for the United States to end its night raids and for the Taliban to stop attacks on government personnel and infrastructure as "confidence-building measures", after which the two sides would negotiate on the central issues of the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban's renunciation of ties with al-Qaeda.
Only after they reached agreement on foreign troops and al-Qaeda would the negotiators tackle the question of an internal political settlement, which would revolve around changes to the Afghan constitution. The same Taliban commentary seemed to leave the door open to dealing with the HPC, but only if it dealt with the central problem of the foreign troop presence.
"If the peace council wants, in earnest, to usher in peace in Afghanistan," it said, it should confront the Americans on "whether they are ready to respect and accept a solution based on a pullout of their forces from Afghanistan".
That is not what happened, however, in the months that followed that Taliban statement on the HPC. The Council initiated contact with the Taliban in May, and over the next four months interacted frequently with, and developed trust in, its Taliban interlocutors. But the account provided of those contacts by Council Member Rahmatullah Wahidyar in his September 22 press conference is revealing - primarily for what it fails to mention. Rabbani and his advisors appear to have been unconcerned by the fact that the HPC could offer nothing to the Taliban on the central problem of US and NATO troops.
These all-too-amiable contacts were taking place, moreover, against a backdrop of the Obama administration and Karzai manoeuvring to keep US troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. In mid-March, US Deputy Undersecretary of Defence Michele Flournoy revealed - in Congressional testimony - the US intention to continue to carry out "counter-terrorism operations" from "joint bases" in Afghanistan well beyond 2014.
That announcement came just as the Obama administration was beginning a series of secret meetings with a Taliban representative in Germany and Qatar. They were explicitly understood to be "preliminary" rather than substantive talks, but the Taliban certainly posed the question whether the United States was prepared to offer a timetable for withdrawal in substantive negotiations.
The Taliban broke off the talks in May, and US officials later claimed that it was because the existence of the talks had been leaked to the media. But if the United States had said anything to persuade the Taliban that it was prepared to offer such a withdrawal schedule, the talks would certainly not have been so abruptly terminated.
As I reported in July, former Afghan Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai told me that a group of Taliban officials he had met earlier that month had said, once the Americans tell them 'we are ready to withdraw', they would agree to have peace talks.
By late August, however, the last ambiguity surrounding the US policy on troops in Afghanistan had been removed. The Telegraph's Ben Farmer reported August 19 that the Obama administration and Karzai were close to an agreement that would keep up to 25,000 US troops, including Special Operations Forces as well as US fighter planes and helicopter gunships, until at least 2024.
When Karzai's national security advisor, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, revealed the outlines of the "strategic partnership" pact in early August, the Deputy Chairman of the HPC, Abdul Hakim Majid, made a highly revealing comment to The Telegraph's Farmer. He said he suspected the Taliban had "intensified" their insurgency in response to the news that Karzai was about to agree to allow the United States a semi-permanent military presence in Afghanistan.
That observation puts in sharp relief the profound lack of realism of the popular assumption that a "peace process" could have been underway in the context of the US-Karzai manoeuvring to take US military presence off the negotiating table.
But we can now expect a cascade of stories for many months blaming the absence of Afghan peace negotiations on the Rabbani assassination - rather than on a fundamental policy decision by President Barack Obama to hold onto a semi-permanent military presence.
2) War drawdowns tempt supercommittee with $1.1 trillion in instant savings
Peter Schroeder, The Hill, 09/26/11 05:15 AM ET
It's a move that's been dismissed as a budget gimmick, but it's also one that could make the supercommittee's job a whole lot easier: counting the savings of withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the 12 lawmakers on the panel begin searching high and low for at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts, they are eyeing once-sacrosanct areas like entitlements and weighing huge projects like tax reform.
If that weren't enough, a growing number of members, as well as the White House, are pressuring the supercommittee to "go big" and exceed its statutory target of $1.5 trillion in cuts.
But if the troop withdrawal is factored in, over a trillion dollars in savings is there for the taking, and at least for the time being, supercommittee members are not ruling it out.
"Everything's on the table," supercommittee member Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, when asked if such savings should be considered as part of the panel's mission.
In the president's proposal to cut the deficit, a major chunk of the savings in the bill comes from the withdrawal of troops following the "surge." Those savings come about because the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assumes war spending will stay at the temporary levels of last year for the next 10 years when scoring savings.
The White House says $1.1 trillion will be saved by drawing down those troops from Afghanistan and making the U.S. presence in Iraq a civilian, not a military, one.
Given that the supercommittee must track down at least $1.2 trillion in cuts to avoid the triggering of automatic cuts, simply accounting for those savings would nearly get the panel there all by itself.
In fact, counting surge savings is not even enough to satisfy some lawmakers. On Thursday, 70 members of the House, including four Republicans, called on the supercommittee to find even more in military savings by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan altogether.
By cutting funding for those wars and winding down the American troop presence there, the lawmakers said the supercommittee could achieve $1.8 trillion in savings over the next decade.
"Exorbitant spending on failed wars that have killed thousands of Americans must not be exempt from budgetary scrutiny," they wrote. "Before we ask American families to pitch in more, let's bring our troops home - and, in the process, our tax dollars home."
3) U.S. Knows Pressure on Pakistan Won't Change Policy
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Sep 27
Washington - The U.S. threat last week that "all options" are on the table if the Pakistani military doesn't cut its ties with the Haqqani network of anti-U.S. insurgents created the appearance of a crisis involving potential U.S. military escalation in Pakistan.
But there is much less substance to the administration's threatening rhetoric than was apparent. In fact, it was primarily an exercise in domestic political damage control, although compounded by an emotional response to recent major attacks by the Haqqani group on U.S.-NATO targets, according to two sources familiar with the policymaking process on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
One source close to that process doubted that there was any planning for military action against Pakistan in the immediate future. "I'm sure we're going to be talking to the Pakistanis a lot about this," the source told IPS.
Despite the tough talk about not tolerating any more high-profile attacks on U.S. troops, the sources suggested, there is no expectation that anything the United States can do would change Pakistani policy toward the Haqqani group.
The Haqqani network, a force of 15,000 to 20,000 Pashtun fighters led by former anti-Soviet Mujahideen figure Jalalludin Haqqani, has long declared its loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Looming over the discussions about how to react to the latest attacks is the firm conclusion reached by the Barack Obama administration in last December's AfPak policy review that it was futile to try to put pressure on Pakistan over the issue of ties with the Haqqani group.
The Obama administration had tried repeatedly in 2009 and 2010 to put pressure on Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani to attack the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, but without any result. Finally, in the December policy review, it was agreed that attacking Pakistan publicly for its ties with the Haqqani network and its refusal to attack those forces in North Waziristan not only would not achieve the desired result but was counterproductive and should stop, according to sources familiar with that review.
But a rising tide of Haqqani group attacks on U.S. and NATO targets in 2011 has made the Obama administration's AfPak policy much more vulnerable to domestic political criticism than ever before.
The New York Times reported Sep. 24 that the number of attacks by the Haqqani group was five times greater and the number of roadside bombs had increased by 20 percent in 2011 than during the same period of 2010, according to a senior U.S. military official.
Even more damaging to the administration's war policy, however, was the impression created by the attack by the Haqqani network on the U.S. embassy and the U.S.-NATO headquarters in the most heavily- guarded section of Kabul Sep. 13, and a truck bomb attack on a NATO base three days earlier that wounded 77 U.S. troops.
Top U.S. national security officials had no choice but to cast blame on Pakistan for those attacks and to suggest that the administration was now taking a much tougher line toward Islamabad, despite the knowledge that it was not likely to shake the Pakistani policy, according to the two knowledgeable sources.
"We're in a situation where the administration could not do nothing," said one of the sources.
The administration decided within a few days of the high-profile attack in Kabul on Sep. 13 to highlight the claim that the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, was somehow complicit in the recent Haqqani group attacks.
On Sep. 17, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter charged that the Haqqani network had carried out the attack on the U.S. embassy and U.S.-NATO headquarters a few days earlier and declared, "There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistani government."
Three days later Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters, "We are going to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our forces" in Afghanistan.
Then the administration put out a story through the Washington Post Sep. 21 that was clearly aimed at satisfying the domestic political audience that the administration was sufficiently tough toward Pakistan on its ties with the Haqqani group. Diplomatic correspondent Karen DeYoung reported that the Obama administration had given "what amounts to an ultimatum" to Pakistan to cut ties with the Haqqani group, warning that the United States would "act unilaterally if Pakistan does not comply".
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Sep. 22, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen made the unusual admission that the Haqqani network's attacks in Afghanistan had become "more brazen, more aggressive, more lethal" than ever before, but explained it as a function of ties between the group and Pakistan's ISI.
He portrayed the Haqqani group as "a veritable arm of the ISI" and suggested that there was "credible evidence" that the ISI was behind the truck bomb attack on the NATO base Sep. 10 as well as the attack on the embassy and the International Security Assistance Force headquarters a few days later. He used oddly contorted language in characterising that evidence, saying that "the information has become more available that those attacks have been supported or even encouraged by the ISI."
That same line, which only suggested ISI "encouragement" as a possibility, was then peddled to Reuters and CNN, among other news outlets. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr quoted a "U.S. military official" on Sep. 23 as claiming ISI "knowledge or support" in regard to Haqqani network attacks – another formula revealing the absence of hard intelligence of ISI complicity.
And Mark Hosenball and Susan Cornwell of Reuters reported Sep. 22 U.S. officials had conceded that information suggesting that ISI had encouraged Haqqani attacks on U.S. forces was "uncorroborated".
Absent from these reports was any indication that the U.S. intelligence community had been consulted by Mullen before making claims about "credible intelligence" of ISI complicity.
Even those who had held out hope in the past that pressure on Pakistan could lead to change in its relationship with the Haqqani group have now given up on that possibility. The New York Times reported Saturday that officials who once believed Washington could manipulate the Pakistani military to end its support for the Haqqani group "through cajoling and large cash payments" were now convinced that Pakistan would not change its policy as long as it feels threatened by Indian power.
4) Shaken by increase in attacks since 2001, many Pakistanis fault U.S.
Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, September 26
Islamabad, Pakistan - Muhammad Irfan Malik is a banker, and he relies on numbers to tell the story of his daughter's death.
She was 17 years and 2 months old, a college student who had scored 800 out of 850 on high school graduation exams. On Oct. 20, 2009, she was with classmates in her university cafeteria when a suicide bomber detonated explosives that launched 46 ball bearings into her body. She died 43 days later, leaving her family to suffer incalculable grief.
But when casting blame, Malik turns to an equation that is common here - one that Pakistani officials often cite to explain why their country remains reluctant to fully confront Islamist militants despite acute pressure from the United States. Since 2001, when Islamabad partnered with Washington to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, there have been 335 suicide bombings in Pakistan. Before 2001, there was one.
If Pakistan had never allied with the United States, Malik surmised, bombings such as the one that killed his daughter might never have occurred. "The government is siding with the United States," Malik said, his eyes damp. "The people are not."
Aqsa Malik was among more than 10,000 Pakistani civilians killed in a decade-long spiral of armed conflict, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. The bloodshed has traumatized the national psyche, spawning chains of security checkpoints and robbing families of breadwinners and children.
To Washington, which provides Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid, the carnage should be enough to turn the country's public and its power structure firmly against Islamist militancy. But to ordinary as well as influential Pakistanis, the view is far less clear.
"I have become so unsafe that sometimes I think I should have my family leave Pakistan," said Hamid Mir, a popular television host, explaining the view of many Pakistanis. "Why is that? It is because of the American policies in Pakistan."
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a large majority of Pakistanis consider suicide bombings unjustifiable. But majorities also view the United States, with its campaign of frequent drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas, as an enemy.
The 2009 suicide attack at the International Islamic University, which involved two assailants who killed at least nine people, was just one bombing among hundreds and hardly the deadliest. But discussions with survivors and relatives of those killed reveal much about the ambivalence among Pakistanis toward a war they have never claimed as their own.
Among those killed was Amna Batool, 20, an English student and theater enthusiast who asked her father how she looked before leaving for school that morning. Syed Zubair Ashraf, 58, next saw her at the hospital, her skull ravaged by what he describes as "ball bearings and nails and other dirty materials." Her death four days later left Ashraf, an editor of an Urdu research journal, without the will to write.
Ashraf has watched in recent years as blast walls and metal detectors sprouted across Islamabad, a sleepy capital city that once seemed immune from violence. Now, Ashraf said, it feels besieged by spies, and he cannot help but think that the U.S. presence in the region is fueling the attacks, not stopping them.
"I have read that Americans are peace-loving. But their government has interfered in every country. Why?" Ashraf said.
5) Busting More Than Just Bunkers
Paul R. Pillar, The National Interest, September 24, 2011
[Pillar retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the U.S. intelligence community, in which his last position was National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia.]
The story that the Obama administration secretly delivered GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators, commonly known as bunker-buster bombs, to Israel in 2009 is disturbing as well as complex. Any comment on this subject needs to begin with the caveat that anyone who is not privy, as I certainly am not, to details of U.S.-Israeli discussions, much less to the details of the Israeli Defense Forces' military plans, cannot pretend to know all possible facets of the issue. One should also note that provision of munitions to another state has long been used as a legitimate tool not just to bolster someone's military capabilities but also to try to buy influence with the other state. The United States has used this tool in a big way in the past in the Middle East, especially in bestowing major military aid on Egypt, in addition to the even more generous and perennial gifts to Israel, as a way of buying the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Of course, in using aid in this way one always has to consider what return one is getting on the investment. Robert Gates was pointing out the obvious in noting behind closed doors that Israel has been a remarkably ungrateful "ally," giving Washington little but trouble in return for the extraordinarily generous assistance the United States has bestowed on Israel through the years. With regard to transfers of materiel that incorporate advanced military technology, Israel also has shown little regard for U.S. interests when striking its own deals that have exposed U.S. technology to the likes of China.
The even bigger worry about the bunker busters concerns what they would be used for. The one possible use that looms above any others one could conceive of is an attack on Iran and specifically its nuclear facilities. Providing the bunker busters was a mistake insofar as it increases Israel's ability to initiate a war with Iran in this way. Even more serious (because Israel probably could develop the bunker-busting technology on its own, albeit at greater expense), is that providing the bombs could be interpreted as a green light to go to war. Even more serious than that (because Israel, notwithstanding all that aid, does not wait for green lights from the United States anyway), is that the use of U.S.-made bombs to initiate war with Iran would accentuate the already-existing association of the United States with any Israeli action and intensify the resulting damage to U.S. political, economic, and security interests.
Providing the bombs was a bad decision by the Obama administration. One can imagine some of the thinking behind it. The administration was attempting to save a possible negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by trying to get the Israeli government to stop what was slowing killing that possibility-viz., the continued construction of settlements on occupied and disputed land. So the bombs were one more way to attempt to buy this kind of influence (an unsuccessful attempt, as with so many similar attempts toward the Israelis). There is also Obama's related political need to show that he really is a friend of Israel. Helping to fill this need may have been the motivation of whoever inside the administration leaked the story (which the Israelis had wanted to keep secret). The Bush administration had promised Israel that it eventually would get the bombs but, to that administration's credit, held up delivery because of Israel's transfer of advanced military technology to China.
The unwise transfer of the bunker busters is another reflection of the tendency to think of support to Israel in only one dimension. In fact, the core of Israeli security and well-being is usually quite apart from the topics that become matters of public discussion or controversy, be they penetrating bombs or West Bank settlements. It is consistent with U.S. interests to maintain a relationship with Israel that helps provide for the defense of Israel and its citizens. This is why, as I have argued before, the United States ought to be most generous with help on measures, such as the Iron Dome anti-missile system, that are most defensive and have the least chance for damaging side-effects.
We need to get away from the pseudo-reasoning, which is currently appearing as red meat in the Republican presidential campaign, that Israel is an ally, that this ally ought to be supported, and that support means doing whatever the Israeli government says it wants us to do, regardless of what this means for U.S. interests or even for Israel's own interests. This pseudo-reasoning promotes diplomatic mistakes such as what we have been seeing with the current unpleasantness at the United Nations. It also promotes military mistakes, including the provision of bombs that might become literally the first shots in another war highly damaging to the United States.
6) Israel, Rejecting Palestinian Demands, Plans Housing Outside 1967 Boundaries
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, September 27, 2011
Jerusalem - Israel announced plans on Tuesday for 1,100 new housing units in an area of South Jerusalem outside Israel's pre-1967 boundaries. The move reflects Israel's continued rejection of Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement construction as a condition for peace talks.
The Palestinian leadership immediately condemned the plan.
The two sides are under international pressure to resume peace negotiations, on the heels of the Palestinians' contentious bid for membership as a state in the United Nations.
Over the last 18 months, Israel has repeatedly made awkwardly timed announcements of building plans in disputed and occupied areas. The Palestinians walked out of nascent peace talks a year ago after a 10-month Israeli moratorium on settlement construction expired.
On Friday, the group known as the quartet - United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union - issued a statement urging the Palestinians and the Israelis to return to direct negotiations within a month, without preconditions. The statement did not mention any settlement freeze, but called on the two sides "to refrain from provocative actions" and cited the sides' obligations under the 2003 "road map," an American-backed peace plan that called, among other things, for stopping all Israeli settlement building.
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Tuesday that the Obama administration was "deeply disappointed" by the Israeli announcement. "We have called on both sides to take steps that improve the prospects of direct negotiations getting under way," Mr. Carney said.
A spokeswoman for Israel's Interior Ministry said that the plan for new housing in Gilo, in south Jerusalem bordering on the West Bank, was being posted for public comment for 60 days, a necessary step before final approval. She said the timing was driven by the lengthy approval process, and not by any political agenda. Construction is not likely to begin before 2013.
The Gilo area was conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war, along with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Israel later annexed it to the city of Jerusalem, a step that has never been recognized internationally.
7) '15 Colombian unionists murdered since Labor Action Plan took effect'
Travis Mannon, Colombia Reports, Monday, 26 September 2011 16:04
Fifteen union leaders have been murdered since the Labor Action Plan between the United States and Colombia went into effect in April 2011, said the largest U.S-based trade union federation in a letter to President Barack Obama.
The president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) urged Obama to not send the Colombia-U.S. free trade agreement to Congress for approval until the Colombian government addresses human rights violations against unionists in their country.
The Labor Action Plan is a requisite for the approval of the FTA, which forces the Colombian government to address violence against unionists. The plan has been a source of controversy as critics argue that it does not require results and actual improvement.
"Despite the Labor Action Plan that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to in April, violent suppression of workers, as well as land rights, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian activists continues unabated," said AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka in the letter to Obama.
"Twenty-two union leaders have been killed so far this year in Colombia, including 15 since the Labor Action Plan went into effect. While the new government may have good intentions, unfortunately, on the ground, Colombian working families are neither safer nor more able to exercise basic rights. Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a union member," Trumka explained.
In addition to the 22 union leaders murdered, all of which Trumka argues have gone unsolved, the AFL-CIO also pointed out that six Catholic priests have been murdered in Colombia in 2011.
The union president asserted that passing the FTA will "undercut our leverage to encourage Colombia to follow up its promises and intentions with effective actions."
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