JFP 1/30: Wyden, McGovern slam new Bahrain arms sale; France to push earlier Afghan drawdown
Just Foreign Policy News, January 30, 2012
Wyden, McGovern oppose new Bahrain arms sale; France to push Afghan drawdown
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1) While the Obama administration has been delaying a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain due to human rights concerns and congressional opposition, administration officials have told congressional offices they will move forward with a different package of arms sales without any formal notification, Foreign Policy reports. Sen. Wyden and Rep. McGovern are circulating a letter of opposition.
"The Bahraini government has shown little progress in improving their human rights record over the last few months and in some ways, their record has gotten worse," Wyden said. "Protesters are still being hurt and killed, midnight arrests are still happening and the government continues to deny access to human rights monitors. The kingdom of Bahrain has not shown a true good faith effort to improve human rights in their country and the U.S. should not be rewarding them as if they have."
"The government of Bahrain continues to perpetrate serious human rights abuses and to deny independent monitors access to the country," McGovern said. "Until Bahrain takes more substantial and lasting steps to protect the rights of its own citizens, the United States should not reward its government with any military sales."
2) President Sarkozy announced France would break with its allies in NATO and accelerate the French withdrawal from Afghanistan, pulling back combat troops a year early, by the end of 2013, the New York Times reports. Sarkozy said he and Afghanistan's president Karzai, would ask the NATO alliance for a similar speedup of the transfer of primary security responsibilities to Afghan troops. Sarkozy's main rival for the French presidency, Socialist François Hollande, has promised to pull all French troops out by the end of this year.
3) Amnesty International called on the authorities in Bahrain to immediately release Fadhila Mubarak, an activist convicted for her involvement in last year's pro-reform demonstrations, after a court upheld her 18-month prison sentence. Amnesty considers Mubarak to be a "prisoner of conscience." Mubarak was arrested last March 20 after she was stopped in her car at a checkpoint. She was told she had been stopped for playing music calling for the overthrow of the regime.
4) Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi offered to extend the current visit of U.N. nuclear inspectors and expressed optimism their findings would help ease tensions, AP reports. The comments underscored efforts to display cooperation with the IAEA, AP says. The findings from the visit could greatly influence Western efforts to expand economic pressures on Iran over its uranium enrichment, AP says.
5) India has joined China in saying it will not cut back on oil imports from Iran, AP reports. India and China together accounted for 34 percent of Iran's oil exports from January to September of 2011. Iranian oil accounts for 9 percent of India's oil consumption and 6 percent of China's.
6) Former Taliban officials said Taliban negotiators have begun meeting with U.S. officials in Qatar, where they are discussing preliminary trust-building measures, including a possible prisoner transfer, the New York Times reports. U.S. officials would not deny that meetings had taken place. The discussions seemed to have at least the tacit approval of Pakistan, which allowed the Taliban delegates to attend, which the former Taliban officials described as a "green light." The former Taliban officials described fairly advanced discussions in Qatar about the transfer of prisoners. There has also been discussion in Qatar of removing some Taliban members from NATO's "kill or capture" lists, the former Taliban officials said.
7) Hamas leader Khaled Meshal visited Jordan, days after Hamas officials signaled that he had effectively abandoned the group's base in Damascus, the New York Times reports. Khaled Hroub of Cambridge University said leaving Syria fit with a "paradigm shift" in Hamas - led by Meshal, over some resistance from hardliners in Gaza - away from an armed campaign and toward less violent popular resistance to Israel.
"They have decided for the time being that nonviolence is the strategy," Dr. Hroub said of the Hamas leaders. "The whole nonviolent strategy has shown its effectiveness: the Arab Spring has proved this with the fall of strong governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
In Jordan, which has two million registered Palestinian refugees, there is widespread admiration for Meshal, the Times says. Palestinians interviewed in Amman said they were happy he was coming. "Of course he will have more influence here, because there are more Palestinians here than in Syria," said Mahdi Mahmoud, 26, a refugee from Jerusalem. Nadia Jamil, 52, said she saw him not as a party chief, but as a Palestinian leader. "Everybody loves him, he's very dear to us," she said.
1) Obama administration using loophole to quietly sell arms package to Bahrain
Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, Friday, January 27, 2012 - 4:41 PM
President Barack Obama's administration has been delaying its planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain due to human rights concerns and congressional opposition, but this week administration officials told several congressional offices that they will move forward with a new and different package of arms sales -- without any formal notification to the public.
The congressional offices that led the charge to oppose the original Bahrain arms sales package are upset that the State Department has decided to move forward with the new package. The opposition to Bahrain arms sales is led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), and also includes Senate Foreign Relations Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee chairman Robert Casey (D-PA), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Wyden and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) have each introduced a resolution in their respective chambers to prevent the U.S. government from going through with the original sale, which would have included 44 armored, high-mobility Humvees and over 300 advanced missiles.
The State Department has not released details of the new sale, and Congress has not been notified through the regular process, which requires posting the information on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) website. The State Department simply briefed a few congressional offices and is going ahead with the new sale, arguing it didn't meet the threshold that would require more formal notifications and a public explanation.
Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.
We're further told that State is keeping the exact items in the sale secret, but is claiming they are for Bahrain's "external defense" and therefore couldn't be used against protesters. Of course, that's the same argument that State made about the first arms package, which was undercut by videos showing the Bahraini military using Humvees to suppress civilian protesters.
Regardless, congressional opponents to Bahrain arms sales are planning to fight back. Wyden is circulating a letter now to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating that Bahrain's government continues to commit human rights violations and should not be rewarded with U.S. arms sales.
"The Bahraini government has shown little progress in improving their human rights record over the last few months and in some ways, their record has gotten worse," Wyden told The Cable on Friday. "Protesters are still being hurt and killed, midnight arrests are still happening and the government continues to deny access to human rights monitors. The kingdom of Bahrain has not shown a true good faith effort to improve human rights in their country and the U.S. should not be rewarding them as if they have."
"Supplying arms to a regime that continues to persecute its citizens is not in the best interest of the United States," Wyden said. "When the government of Bahrain shows that it respects the human rights of its citizens it will become more stable and a better ally in the region; only then should arms sales from the U.S. resume."
That point was echoed by McGovern, who pledged to oppose any arms sales to Bahrain. "The government of Bahrain continues to perpetrate serious human rights abuses and to deny independent monitors access to the country," McGovern told The Cable. "Until Bahrain takes more substantial and lasting steps to protect the rights of its own citizens, the United States should not reward its government with any military sales."
Cherif Bassiouni, the chair of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry that investigated the government crackdown on protests in 2011, recently said in an interview that the administration is not doing enough to pressure the Bahrain regime. "There is merit in naming and shaming and embarrassing, in pushing, in enlisting public opinion, domestic and international. This is not the style of Secretary Clinton or President Obama, and I'm not sure they are necessarily doing the right choice," he said.
Cole Bockenfeld, director of advocacy for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), told The Cable on Friday that the new sale will be perceived by both the government of Bahrain and those in the opposition as a green light for the government to continue its repression.
"In the broader picture of the Arab Spring, this further erodes the credibility of U.S. rhetoric about democracy and human rights in the region," he said. "Rewarding regimes that repress peaceful dissent with arms sales simply does not square with the administration's rhetoric. The administration can no longer afford to endorse the status quo in Bahrain."
Maryam al-Khawaja, the head of the foreign relations office at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told The Cable on Friday that the sale of U.S. arms to the Bahraini regime sends the wrong message to the people of Bahrain, and the region in general.
"This message of 'business as usual' will only strengthen the regime's belief that there will continue to be lack of consequences to their human rights violations internationally," she said. "At a time when the United States is already being criticized for practicing double standards when it comes to the so-called Arab spring, to the protesters in Bahrain, the U.S. selling any arms to the government of Bahrain is exactly like Russia selling arms to Syria. Bahrain has become the United States' test on how serious they are about standing against human rights violations, and they are failing miserably."
2) France, Breaking With NATO, Will Speed Afghan Exit
Steven Erlanger and Rod Nordland, New York Times, January 27, 2012
Paris - President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Friday that France would break with its allies in NATO and accelerate the French withdrawal from Afghanistan, pulling back combat troops a year early, by the end of 2013. Mr. Sarkozy also said that he and Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, would ask the NATO alliance for a similar speedup of the transfer of primary security responsibilities to Afghan troops.
Mr. Sarkozy increased this year's withdrawal of troops to 1,000 from 600, and said that French troops would hand over security duties in one of their main areas of responsibility, Kapisa Province, northeast of Kabul, beginning in March, at least four months early.
The moves followed an attack a week ago by a rogue Afghan soldier who fired on unarmed French troops embedded with Afghan forces on a training mission in Kapisa, killing 4 soldiers and wounding 15, 8 of them seriously. The attack was a major blow for France, and occurred amid a tough re-election campaign for Mr. Sarkozy. His main rival for the presidency, the Socialist François Hollande, has promised to pull all French troops out by the end of this year, contending just last Sunday that "our mission there is finished."
After leaving Kapisa, French troops will have little operational role in Afghanistan other than training and headquarters units, and no troops actually deployed in the field. Even now, other smaller coalition members have a more significant role militarily. Many of Poland's 2,472 troops are in difficult areas in eastern Afghanistan. The small Australian contingent of 1,550 troops includes a number of special forces in southern Oruzgan Province, which is much more dangerous than Kapisa.
Still, there are fears that other NATO and coalition leaders, many from countries whose populaces oppose the war, might be prompted to follow Mr. Sarkozy's lead. The coalition provides 40,000 of the 130,000 troops now on the ground, doing many of the support and lower-level jobs that free American combat troops to concentrate on the trouble spots. Britain has 9,500 soldiers, the second-largest contingent of troops after the United States. Germany and Italy are next, ahead of France.
3) Amnesty International Calls for Immediate Release of Female Activist in Bahrain -- Beaten, Arrested and Jailed For Involvement in Pro-Reform Demonstrations
Amnesty International, January 30, 2012
New York – Amnesty International today called on the authorities in Bahrain to immediately release Fadhila Mubarak, an activist convicted for her involvement in last year's pro-reform demonstrations, after a court upheld her 18-month prison sentence.
Amnesty International considers Mubarak -- the first woman activist to be convicted for her involvement in last year's pro-reform demonstrations -- to be a "prisoner of conscience."
"Fadhila Mubarak's sentence only serves to demonstrate the intolerance of the authorities and the failures of the justice system [in Bahrain]," said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program. "They must also launch an independent investigation into allegations of torture against her and bring those responsible to justice."
Mubarak was arrested last March 20 after she was stopped in her car at a checkpoint. She was told she had been stopped for playing music calling for the overthrow of the regime. Forced from her car, she was beaten in the head and arrested.Later, during interrogation she was said to have been repeatedly beaten all over her body by female policewomen.
A military court found Mubarak guilty of several charges in May and sentenced her to four years in prison. In June, after four appeal hearings, the court reduced her sentence to 18 months in prison.
4) 'Optimistic' Iran offers to extend UN nuclear inspection, AP, January 30, 2012
Associated Press, Monday, January 30, 8:54 AM
Tehran, Iran - Iran's top diplomat offered Monday to extend the current visit of U.N. nuclear inspectors and expressed optimism their findings would help ease tensions despite international claims that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons.
The comments by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, reported by Iran's official news agency, underscored efforts to display cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency team and downplay the expectations of a confrontation atmosphere during the three-day visit that began Sunday.
The IAEA mission is the first to Iran since a report in November that suggested some of the Islamic Republic's alleged experiments - cited in intelligence documents - can have no other purpose than developing nuclear weapons. The current inspection team includes two senior weapons experts, hinting that Iran may be prepared to discuss specific points on the claims it seeks to develop warheads after three years of rebuffing U.N. calls for answers.
The findings from the visit could greatly influence Western efforts to expand economic pressures on Iran over its uranium enrichment - which Washington and allies fear could eventually produce weapons-grade material. Iran has declined to abandon its enrichment labs, but claims it seeks to fuel reactors only for energy and medical research.
Asian powers - which buy the bulk of Iran's oil - have resisted appeals to join Western boycotts and financial sanctions aimed at Iran's critical oil industry.
India's finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, told reporters Sunday in Chicago that cutting off Iranian oil would be too great a blow for the Indian economy. About 12 percent of India's oil imports reportedly come from Iran, making Iran its second-largest supplier after Saudi Arabia.
The IAEA team also wants to talk to key Iranian scientists suspected of working on a weapons program. The team also plans to inspect documents related to nuclear work and secure commitments from Iranian authorities to allow future visits.
It remains unclear how much Iran will cooperate or is willing to disclose. Iran has accused the IAEA in the past of security leaks that expose its scientists and their families to the threat of assassination by the U.S. and Israel.
5) India says it won't cut back on Iran oil imports, in defiance of stiffer US and EU sanctions
AP, Monday, January 30, 1:08 PM
Mumbai, India - India has joined China in saying it will not cut back on oil imports from Iran, despite stiff new U.S. and European sanctions designed to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program.
"It is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the import from Iran drastically because, after all, the countries which can provide the requirement of the emerging economy, Iran is an important country amongst them," India's finance minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters Sunday in Chicago.
India and China together accounted for 34 percent of Iran's oil exports from January to September of 2011 - slightly more than Europe, according to International Energy Agency data.
The move is likely to be seen as a political victory in Iran, but it's unclear how Chinese and Indian companies will actually be able to pay for Iranian oil without running afoul of the sanctions, analysts said.
"It's a blow," said David Hartwell, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's, adding that Iran may have discounted prices to keep the Chinese and Indians on their side. "If you have two major countries like India and China saying they will not abide by the sanctions, that's going to keep a vital line open for the Iranians to continue to sidestep the sanctions and get foreign capital."
India and China are ravenous energy consumers and rely heavily on imported oil. Iranian oil accounts for 9 percent of India's oil consumption and 6 percent of China's, according to the latest data from the IEA.
6) Former Taliban Officials Say U.S. Talks Started
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, January 28, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - Several Taliban negotiators have begun meeting with American officials in Qatar, where they are discussing preliminary trust-building measures, including a possible prisoner transfer, several former Taliban officials said Saturday.
The former officials said that four to eight Taliban representatives had traveled to Qatar from Pakistan to set up a political office for the exiled Afghan insurgent group.
The comments suggested that the Taliban, who have not publicly said they would engage in peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, were gearing up for preliminary discussions.
American officials would not deny that meetings had taken place, and the discussions seemed to have at least the tacit approval of Pakistan, which has thwarted previous efforts by the Taliban to engage in talks.
The former Taliban officials, interviewed Saturday in Kabul, were careful not to call the discussions peace talks.
"Currently there are no peace talks going on," said Maulavi Qalamuddin, the former minister of vice and virtue for the Taliban who is now a member of the High Peace Council here. "The only thing is the negotiations over release of Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo, which is still under discussion between both sides in Qatar. We also want to strengthen the talks so we can create an environment of trust for further talks in the future."
The State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has said only that Marc Grossman, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had "a number of meetings" related to Afghanistan when he visited Qatar last week.
The former Taliban officials here described fairly advanced discussions in Qatar about the transfer of prisoners. One former official, Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, who had been a Taliban military commander, said that five Taliban prisoners were to be transferred in two phases, two or three in one group and then the remainder.
There has also been discussion in Qatar of removing some Taliban members from NATO's "kill or capture" lists, the former Taliban officials said.
Mr. Grossman, in his comments last week, played down talk of detainee releases, saying the United States had not yet decided on the issue. "This is an issue of United States law first of all, that we have to meet the requirements of our law," he said.
He said the Obama administration would also consult with Congress. Under American law, the defense secretary must certify to Congress that the transfer of any Guantánamo prisoner to a foreign country would meet certain requirements, including that the country maintains control over its prisons and will not allow a transferred detainee to become a future threat to the United States.
If any detainees were released, Western and Afghan officials said, they would likely be transferred to Qatar and held there, perhaps under house arrest.
The former Taliban officials said that they were most surprised by Pakistan's decision to allow the Taliban delegates to obtain travel documents and board a plane to Qatar. The former officials have long contended that Pakistan has obstructed talks. "This is a green light from Pakistan," Mr. Rahmani said.
Pakistan "definitely supported this and is also helping," Mr. Qalamuddin added. He said that if Pakistan did not approve of the talks, it would have arrested the Taliban delegates to Qatar, just as it did with Mullah Baradar, a senior Taliban official, after he began secret talks with the Afghan government in 2010.
7) Hamas Leader Takes Rare Trip to Jordan
Stephen Farrell, New York Times, January 29, 2012
Amman, Jordan - Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, made a rare and pointedly low-key visit to Jordan on Sunday, days after Hamas officials signaled that he had effectively abandoned the group's base in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Mr. Meshal and a delegation from Hamas's political bureau, including his deputy, Mousa Abu Marzook, arrived in Amman with the crown prince of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and met with the king of Jordan, Abdullah II.
It was the first official visit to Jordan by Hamas's leader since the group's former headquarters in Amman were shut down by the Jordanian government in 1999, forcing the group to relocate to Damascus. Moves toward reconciliation are a delicate issue for both sides.
Jordan wants to restore relations with Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls Gaza, because the group is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Islamist allies are forming new governments around the Arab world, and because Jordan wants to remain an influential go-between in the region, especially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Jordan does not want to damage its relationship with Hamas's chief rival, President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, nor to anger Jordan's allies, Israel and the United States, which consider Hamas a terrorist group.
Hamas, likewise, is eager to distance itself from the increasingly bloodstained government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but does not want to provoke Syria or its powerful political and financial patron, Iran.
After the Hamas delegation led by Mr. Meshal met with King Abdullah on Sunday, the royal palace issued a statement repeating Jordan's nuanced positions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supporting a negotiated solution based on two states and citing "the importance of unity among the Palestinians groups."
A wholesale return to Amman by Hamas does not appear to be on the table. Some analysts believe the group will disperse its leadership around the region: Mr. Meshal perhaps to Qatar, where he has a residence; Mr. Marzook to Egypt, where he can be closer to his family in Gaza; and other leaders to Amman or Beirut, or in Damascus - where they would remain individually.
Khaled Hroub of Cambridge University, who studies Islamist movements, said leaving Syria fit with a "paradigm shift" in Hamas - led by Mr. Meshal, over some resistance from hardliners in Gaza - away from an armed campaign and toward less violent popular resistance to Israel.
"They have decided for the time being that nonviolence is the strategy," Dr. Hroub said of the Hamas leaders. "The whole nonviolent strategy has shown its effectiveness: the Arab Spring has proved this with the fall of strong governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
"With newly emerging governments in the post-Arab-Spring era, many of them Islamist, Hamas wants to be hosted and embraced and have offices in these countries, so they want to establish a distance from the old Hamas. This will make it easier for countries like Egypt and Tunisia to deal with them, without having problems with the Americans and the West."
In Jordan, which has two million registered Palestinian refugees, there is widespread admiration for Mr. Meshal, who survived an assassination attempt here in 1997. Palestinians interviewed in Amman said they were happy he was coming.
"Of course he will have more influence here, because there are more Palestinians here than in Syria," said Mahdi Mahmoud, 26, a refugee from Jerusalem. Nadia Jamil, 52, said she saw him not as a party chief, but as a Palestinian leader. "Everybody loves him, he's very dear to us," she said. "He's a distinguished figure, he has stature."
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