JFP 9/30: Congress Urged to Block Bahrain Arms Sale; Nigeria, Gabon Back Palestine
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September 30, 2011
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1) More than a dozen U.S. and international human rights and arms control groups are urging Congress to block a proposed arms sale to Bahrain until it ends its crackdown against the opposition and adopts serious reforms, Inter Press Service reports. Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, and the Open Society Policy Center said Washington risked losing more credibility, particularly in the Arab world, as a force for freedom if it went through with the sale.
"This prioritization of security interests over political reform stands in stark contrast to President Obama's declaration of support in May to those protesting for freedom throughout the region, when he said: 'If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States,'" according to the letter. "The people Bahrain have taken those risks for reform," the letter said. [Just Foreign Policy signed the letter; see also Washington Post editorial opposing the arms sale, below - JFP.]
2) Military experts mocked the claim of the House Armed Services Committee Republican leadership that further cuts in military spending would force a reinstatement of the draft, The Hill reports. Pro-military spending Heritage Foundation analyst Jay Carafano called it "nutty talk."
3) The U.S. should pursue Iran's offer to suspend production of more highly enriched uranium in exchange for fuel supplies for its medical reactor from the United States, write Ali Vaez and Charles Ferguson of the Federation of American Scientists in the New York Times. The deal would mitigate proliferation concerns at the same time that it would fulfill a humanitarian need in Iran, they note. 850,000 Iranians currently depend on the medical reactor's radioactive isotopes for cancer treatment.
4) Army Major General David Perkins, who leads 5,000 US troops deployed in northern Iraq, says large numbers of US troops are no longer needed there, AFP reports. US commanders and some lawmakers have previously argued that keeping a brigade in northern Iraq was crucial to preventing ethnic war there by allowing the Americans to play a peacekeeping role. Perkins said he expected the US still to play a mediating role in the north but "at the very senior level" without large numbers of troops deployed.
5) Pakistan's political leaders voiced their support for Pakistan's army after US allegations the army supports insurgents attacking US troops in Afghanistan, AP reports. The resolution called for peace with insurgents in Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis perceive the Americans as the illegitimate force in Afghanistan, not the Afghan Taliban, AP notes.
6) Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki says the Palestinians have eight of the nine Security Council votes they need to force a U.S. veto of their bid for full membership in the U.N., AFP reports. Malki told reporters the Palestinians have assurances of "yes" votes from Lebanon, Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil, in addition to new confirmations from Nigeria and Gabon. "We are working on Bosnia, Colombia and Portugal," Maliki said.
7) The regime in Bahrain has broken its promises of reform and Washington should not reward it with arms sales, argues the Washington Post in an editorial. Bahrain's ruling family should be given more reason to worry about its standing in Washington, the Post says. A congressional hold on the arms package would be a good way to start.
8) The UN says violence in Afghanistan is up nearly 40 percent over last year, contradicting claims by the U.S.-led coalition that security has improved, McClatchy reports. The U.N. report said that as of the end of August, there had been a 39 percent increase in "security incidents" compared with the comparable period in 2010. The U.N. report found that violence remained high in Afghanistan's south and southeast, areas where U.S. troops have stepped up operations. It also found that civilian casualties have risen steadily: up 5 percent in June, July and August from the same months last year. That followed a 15 percent increase that the United Nations reported for the first six months of the year.
1) U.S. Congress Urged to Reject Arms Sale
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, 29 Sep
Washington - More than a dozen U.S. and international human rights and arms control groups are urging Congress to block a proposed 53- million-dollar arms sale to Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, until it ends its crackdown against the opposition and adopts serious reforms.
In a letter sent to lawmakers Wednesday, the groups, which include Human Rights First (HRF), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Open Society Policy Centre, said Washington risked losing more credibility, particularly in the Arab world, as a force for freedom if it went through with the sale.
"This prioritisation of security interests over political reform stands in stark contrast to President (Barack) Obama's declaration of support in May to those protesting for freedom throughout the region, when he said: 'If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States,'" according to the letter.
"The people Bahrain have taken those risks for reform," the letter added, noting that protests in the tiny kingdom last February "were the largest of the Arab Spring ...(r)elative to the country's size."
The letter's release coincided with Thursday's sentencing by a Bahraini military court of 20 doctors and other health professionals who treated injured protestors during the pro-democracy protests that erupted against the government of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa earlier this year.
The defendants, who were charged with stealing medicine, stockpiling weapons, inciting hatred against the government and occupying Manama's Salamaniya Medical Complex, face between five and 15 years in prison.
Those sentences, as well as the affirmation by a special security court Wednesday of life sentences for eight prominent Shiite political figures who helped lead the protests, will almost certainly add to sectarian tensions in Bahrain and intensify the debate within both the administration and Congress here about how best to press the royal family, who are Sunni Muslims, toward a more conciliatory stance vis-à-vis majority Shi'a population.
"We're deeply disturbed by the severity of the sentences handed down today," a State Department spokesperson told IPS regarding the sentencing of the health professionals, a number of whom reportedly confessed under torture.
"We've raised our concerns at the highest levels of the Bahraini government regarding Bahrain's use of military courts to try civilians, and we continue to urge it to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings and due process conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and its international legal obligations," he added.
"We call on the government of Bahrain to create a climate conducive to national reconciliation, meaningful dialogue, and reform that & brings peaceful change that is responsive to the aspirations of all Bahrainis."
In relation to the arms transfer, he also said, "We have closely monitored the internal security situation in Bahrain since the civil unrest that occurred earlier this year, and we continually examine all relevant information to fulfil our obligations under the Leahy law."
The Leahy law forbids the transfer of any military aid or equipment to military or security units that are credibly reported have committed human rights abuses.
Moreover, the authorities have carried out what the letter to Congress called "a large-scale campaign of retribution against anyone supporting or participating in protests, including arrests and detentions of internationally respected human rights activists, medical professionals... journalists and bloggers reporting on protests, and union activists and other workers calling for a boycott to address grievances in the workplace."
More than 2,500 people have been fired from their jobs, and more than 40 Shi'a mosques and religious sites have been destroyed in raids that have also targeted Shi'a neighbourhoods and villages.
Nonetheless, the administration notified Congress two weeks ago that it intends to sell 53 million dollars worth of military equipment to Bahrain, mostly armoured Humvees, which could conceivably be used by the kingdom's security forces against protestors, and anti-tank missiles.
Under the law, Congress can block the sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, a procedure that has very rarely been invoked.
In the letter, the groups, which also included the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), the Norwegian Forum for Environment and Development, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), urged lawmakers to "request a formal briefing from the Department of State on how this sale will affect the process of political reform and accountability for serious human rights violations in Bahrain, and how (it) will affect public sentiment toward the United States and its presence in Bahrain."
2) Defense experts counter GOP report: Budget cuts won't bring on new draft
John T. Bennett, The Hill, 09/28/11 12:23 PM ET
A House Republican report's warning that deeper Pentagon budget cuts would force Washington to institute a military draft has little credence, military experts say.
A House Armed Services Committee study that surfaced Monday warns if a special congressional panel fails to find $1.5 trillion or more in federal cuts, the Army and Marine Corps would be forced to slash 200,000 troops.
"These cuts would destroy jobs and stall the economy, they could force America to return to the draft, and we would incur more casualties as we defend our freedom," a summary of the HASC report states.
That was the second warning about the re-institution of conscription from the committee in several days. During an interview last Wednesday with Fox News, panel Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) first uttered the controversial 'D' word.
"We also need to understand what it's going to mean to keep an all-volunteer force," McKeon said. "Do we want to re-institute the draft? Some of the cuts we're talking about would take over 200,000 out."
The draft warnings have raised eyebrows in defense circles because the controversial practice was scrapped after the Vietnam War. The military decided to create the current all-volunteer force.
So what to make of the House Armed Services Republicans' seemingly solo drumbeat about conscription returning? The GOP committee members contend that the draft will be required should Pentagon cuts beyond the $350 billion through 2023, called for in an August deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, be forced as a result of the superpanel's failure.
The HASC report fashioned its conclusions on moves made by Pentagon and Obama administration officials to meet modest defense budget reductions in recent years and what the panel is hearing about their plans to meet the $350 billion cut target, a committee aide said.
Shedding 200,000 soldiers and Marines - and likely thousands of sailors and airmen - would essentially return the military to pre-9/11 levels.
Those force levels "were insufficient to respond to current contingencies," the HASC report said, referring to the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.
The HASC staff report contends a pre-9/11 force could not "decisively win" a war in one region "while defending vital national interests in another." It also says a U.S. military of that size "jeopardizes [the nation's] ability to respond to potential contingencies in North Korea or Iran, and adequately defend allies (including Israel and Taiwan)."
But Gordon Adams, who oversaw national security budgeting for the Clinton administration, said even a pre-9/11 force - after a number of weapons program cuts the panel's report calls likely under sequestration - "would be a globally powerful military."
The House Republican report says if the Pentagon is forced to take on the bulk of an automatic $600 billion cut that a supercommittee failure would bring, a number of hardware programs would be axed or trimmed. The F-35 fighter, a new aircraft carrier, a new bomber aircraft fleet, and ground vehicles made the panel's "at-risk" list.
"If you put the military the report describes - with the end strength and program cuts - we would be scared to death of that military," Adams said.
Even a defense analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has increasingly been in lockstep with McKeon and his committee on military policy and budget issues, called the draft warning far-fetched.
"I think it's nutty talk," said Heritage analyst Jay Carafano. "It's an idle threat. There's not a practical way they could institute a draft. For starters, the country couldn't afford it."
The military would have to beef up its training for non-volunteers and build barracks to house the thousands of single draftees - and both would bring big bills, Carafano said.
Plus, "there would be so many deferments that it would become a politically and culturally incredibly derisive thing," he said.
Asked under what kind of scenario Washington would be forced to go back to conscription, Carafano said it would take "World War III and 10 million men under arms."
3) An Iranian Offer Worth Considering
Ali Vaez and Charles D. Ferguson, New York Times, September 29, 2011
[Vaez is director of the Iran Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Ferguson is president of FAS.]
A nuclear research reactor in Tehran may hold the key to resolving the prolonged nuclear stalemate between Iran and the West. The Iranian government is running out of the 20 percent-enriched uranium it needs to operate the reactor, and that appears to be making it amenable to compromise.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently proposed that Iran suspend production of some uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for fuel supplies from the United States. Whether the offer is an olive branch or an act of necessity, it is an unprecedented opportunity for Washington and its allies.
The proposal arose earlier this month amid the habitual bombast that surrounds Ahmadinejad's annual trip to the U.N. General Assembly. "If you [the United States and Europe] give us uranium grade 20 percent now, we will stop production," the Iranian president told The Washington Post and later, in basically the same terms, The New York Times.
Ahmadinejad clarified that the offer did not apply to the production of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, which it uses at the Bushehr power station to generate electricity. But the offer is significant nonetheless.
While the 20 percent-enriched uranium is used to make medical isotopes in the Tehran Research Reactor, it lies at the perilous dividing line between low-enriched uranium and highly enriched uranium. Stockpiling 20 percent-enriched uranium significantly shortens the time then needed to make crude nuclear weapons. By seeking supplies in the West, Ahmadinejad's offer may lower concerns that Iran will make a dash toward developing atomic bombs in the near future.
As a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium to 20 percent (and even more), so long as it uses the uranium solely for peaceful purposes and operates under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But prompted by revelations that Iran was violating its treaty obligations, the U.N. Security Council has passed six resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment activities.
And now it is also running out of 20 percent-enriched uranium. The United States once supplied the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, but the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought an abrupt end to that relationship. In 1992, Argentina supplied 116 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which has fueled the reactor to date.
After efforts in 2009 and 2010 to swap the majority of Iran's stockpile of 3.5 percent uranium with fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor came to naught, Iran launched its own production of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Today, it holds more than 70 kilograms.
Although this is less than the amount required to make a nuclear bomb - about 130 kilograms at the very least - there are still concerns that Iran could stockpile enough of this uranium and then quickly enrich it further in order to produce weapons-grade material.
There is also the concern that Ahmadinejad's offer may be empty rhetoric. His domestic standing has weakened following his recent public rifts with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad has repeated the offer often enough, and with confirmation from the foreign minister, that it must have the backing of the Iranian political elite, including Khamenei.
For once, it is strategically expedient for the United States and its allies to take Ahmadinejad at his word. They should provide Iran with 50 kilograms of fuel, without any conditions.
As the failed experiences of 2009 and 2010 demonstrated, setting conditions would be a nonstarter. On the other hand, giving Iran the fuel unconditionally would remove Iran's rationale for refining uranium to more than 3.5 percent.
The deal would increase Iran's safeguarded stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium to 120 kilograms, an amount large enough to operate the Tehran Research Reactor for seven years at maximum capacity - and help the 850,000 Iranians who currently depend on the reactor's radioactive isotopes for cancer treatment - but too small to produce even one nuclear bomb.
Such a move would be, above all, a humanitarian gesture, and it would buy Washington good will with the Iranian people and undermine the regime's anti-American, nationalistic propaganda. But it would be a humanitarian gesture with strategic benefits: curtailing Iran's enrichment activities and potentially cutting the Gordian knot that has stalled the West's nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Those who usually observe Iran's nuclear program through a thick veil of suspicion will be inclined to reject any compromise with Tehran out of hand. But since other aspects of the nuclear standoff between the West and Iran - the possible military dimension of the program, heavy-water production, additional enrichment facilities - are likely to remain unresolved, this initiative is a rare chance to move forward.
4) US Troops No Longer Needed In Northern Iraq: General
AFP, Thu, Sep 29, 2011
Large numbers of US troops are no longer needed on the ground in northern Iraq to defuse Arab-Kurdish tensions and have begun handing over control to local forces, a US commander said Thursday.
Army Major General David Perkins, who leads 5,000 US troops deployed in northern Iraq, said the American contingent has gradually withdrawn from checkpoints that it had overseen to prevent clashes between Kurdish troops and Iraqi army and police. "So we no longer have US forces on any of those checkpoints permanently as we did before," Perkins told reporters via video link from Iraq. "And that has gone exceptionally well" with no incidents reported since the beginning of September, he said.
Three US battalions used to work at the checkpoints in the north but after an 18-month transition, the Iraqi forces were in charge, Perkins said. "Clearly there is not the need for them (US troops) to play the role they had, especially in the numbers they had. We have proven right now that out at the checkpoints they can run perfectly fine without US presence there at all."
His upbeat comments reinforced suggestions from the former commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, who said recently that progress in transferring security duties to local forces could mean a large contingent of American troops would not be required to contain tensions.
The US troop presence in northern Iraq is a pivotal issue in Washington and Baghdad as the two countries negotiate a possible future US military mission in Iraq beyond an end-of-year deadline.
US commanders and some lawmakers have previously argued that keeping a brigade in northern Iraq was crucial to preventing ethnic war there by allowing the Americans to play a peacekeeping role.
Perkins said he expected the US still to play a mediating role in the north but "at the very senior level" without large numbers of troops deployed.
He acknowledged underlying tensions between the Kurds and Iraqis over boundaries and oil resources but said any spark for potential violence would come from political discord and not from friction between the Kurdish and Iraqi government troops and police on the ground.
The 4th Infantry Division soldiers in the north have drawn down to 5,000 from 10,000 and will withdraw from Iraq completely by the end of October, leaving behind a small number of American troops, the general said.
5) In response to US allegations, Pakistani politicians call for peace talks in Afghanistan
Associated Press, September 29
Islamabad - Pakistan's political leaders voiced their support Thursday for the country's powerful army in its destabilizing standoff with the United States over allegations the force supports insurgents attacking American troops in Afghanistan.
More than 40 political party leaders signed a resolution after a 10-hour meeting in the capital called by Prime Minister Reza Yousuf Gilani to formulate a response to fresh American claims that the army and the nation's spy agency is supporting the Haqqani network. U.S. officials say the Haqqani group is based on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border and is the most deadly militant faction in Afghanistan.
The vaguely worded resolution, born of compromise between the country's feuding parties and reflective of many of their anti-American and pro-Islamist views, called for peace with insurgents in Afghanistan. It also said the country should seek dialogue with Pakistanis in the tribal regions close to Afghanistan, apparently in reference to militants there battling the Pakistani state.
"'Give peace a chance' must be the guiding central principle henceforth," said the resolution, regarding Afghanistan. "Pakistan must initiate dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with our own people in the tribal areas and a proper mechanism for this be put in place."
The claims last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, America's top military officer, sent relations between Islamabad and Washington plummeting and triggered a backlash against America.
The resolution also referenced veiled U.S. threats of unilateral action against the Haqqanis if Pakistan does not act, saying the "the Pakistani nation affirms its full solidarity and support for the armed forces of Pakistan in defeating any threat to national security."
Most analysts say the Pakistani army and the spy agency are tolerating or even supporting the Haqqani network because they want to cultivate it as an ally in Afghanistan once the Americans withdraw. They see little chance of the top brass attacking the group now, especially when the U.S. is calling for peace talks with other militant factions in Afghanistan.
This view has support in Pakistan, where many people perceive the Americans as the illegitimate force in Afghanistan, not the Afghan Taliban. But others oppose it because the militants are ideologically allied to al-Qaida and other extremists who have carried out scores of bombings on Pakistani soil over the last four years.
6) Palestine has eight Security Council votes, says FM
Palestinians gain the support of Nigeria and Gabon in their efforts to secure nine votes in the Security Council in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state
AFP, Thursday 29 Sep 2011
The Palestinians have secured eight Security Council yes votes for their UN membership bid, just one short of the nine they need, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Riyad al-Malki said he had received assurances from two additional nations -- Nigeria and Gabon -- that they would vote in favour of the Palestinian bid for full state membership at the UN. "We have eight states that will vote for Palestine in the Security Council," he said. "We are working hard to have a ninth and a tenth."
Malki said the Palestinians have assurances of "yes" votes from Lebanon, Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil, in addition to the new confirmations from Nigeria and Gabon.
"We are working on Bosnia, Colombia and Portugal," he added, saying he was scheduled to visit Bosnia shortly, and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will make stops in Colombia, Portugal, Honduras and the Dominican Republic in October.
Abbas will also deliver an address in Strasbourg on October 6, he said.
The Palestinians need to secure at least nine Security Council votes in favour of their membership bid for it to be approved and advanced to the General Assembly.
Even with the requisite nine votes, the United States has pledged to use its veto to block the request, but the Palestinians hope they can at least claim a diplomatic victory by securing a majority in the Security Council.
7) Arms sales to repressive Bahrain misplaced
Editorial, Washington Post, September 29
The rulers of Bahrain, an island nation in the Persian Gulf that hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet, undoubtedly worry that their harsh crackdown on a peaceful pro-democracy movement could damage vital relations with Washington. The government has hired a pricey Washington lobbying firm and regularly dispatches senior officials to stroke the administration and Congress. It has repeatedly promised to free political prisoners, reverse a mass purge of suspected protesters from government jobs and negotiate meaningful reforms of the al-Khalifa monarchy, a Sunni dynasty that rules over a majority-Shiite population.
Yet the regime hasn't kept its promises - and its unjustified and self-defeating repression goes on. The latest brazen step came Thursday, when a special security court sentenced 20 doctors and other medical professionals to lengthy prison terms after a grossly unfair trial. The doctors were charged with stockpiling weapons and trying to overthrow the regime; in fact, their offense was treating injured protesters who arrived at their hospital and reporting what they saw to international media. A host of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, pronounced the trial a travesty; Human Rights First said the medics had given "consistent and credible accounts of being tortured into giving confessions."
The convictions came just a day after a court upheld the convictions of 21 opposition leaders, including clerics, members of political parties, human rights activists and bloggers. None are guilty of violence, but all were nonetheless accused of terrorism; eight received life sentences. They, too, have offered credible reports of torture. Another human rights group, Freedom House, said the rulings continued "a pattern of repression that belies any promises of meaningful reform by the government."
Such a unanimous verdict from human rights groups ought to spell trouble for a government that depends on the United States for defense and enjoys a free-trade agreement with it. Yet there is no sign of serious friction between the Obama administration and the al-Khalifa family. Administration spokesmen have largely kept quiet as the crackdown has proceeded. On the military front, it is business as usual. This month the Pentagon notified Congress of a plan to sell Bahrain armored Humvees and anti-tank missiles worth $53 million.
The message this sends is unmistakable: The regime's crackdown will not affect its cozy relationship with the United States. This is dangerous for the United States as well as for Bahrain, because the government's attempt to suppress legitimate demands for change from a majority of the population is ultimately doomed to failure. Bahrain's ruling family should be given more reason to worry about its standing in Washington. A congressional hold on the arms package would be a good way to start.
8) U.N. reports big increase in Afghan violence this year
Habib Zohori, McClatchy Newspapers, Wed, Sep. 28, 2011
Violence in Afghanistan is up nearly 40 percent over last year, a U.N. report released Wednesday found, contradicting claims by the U.S.-led coalition that security has improved since last year.
The U.N. report, information for which is compiled by the U.N. mission here and submitted to the Security Council quarterly, said that as of the end of August, there had been an average of 2,108 "security incidents" each month this year, a 39 percent increase compared with the comparable period in 2010.
The average number of suicide attacks monthly, 12, remained unchanged, the report said, but more of those attacks were complex and coordinated, involving more than a lone bomber, the report said. The monthly average of three such complex attacks this year is 50 percent higher than the number for the like period in 2010.
A report from the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in August painted a sharply different situation. "Throughout 2011 ISAF has seen significant security improvements throughout Afghanistan and violence is down in 12 of the past 16 weeks as compared to the same period in 2010," the coalition's report said.
The U.N. report found that violence remained high in Afghanistan's south and southeast, areas where U.S. troops have stepped up operations against Taliban forces.
It also found that civilian casualties have risen steadily: up 5 percent in June, July and August from the same months last year. That followed a 15 percent increase that the United Nations reported for the first six months of the year.
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