JFP 3/20: Summers World Bank bid in trouble; US officials warn Israeli attack would hurt US
Just Foreign Policy News, March 20, 2012
Summers World Bank bid in trouble; US officials warn Israeli attack would hurt US
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Larry Summers World Bank bid in trouble, Mexico insists on open process
US Treasury had let it be known that it was going to call the shots and Europe was going to go along. But when Timothy Geithner's candidate turned out to be Larry Summers, Europe refused to go along. Meanwhile, Mexico welcome's Jeff Sachs' candidacy and renews its call for an open, merit-based process.
Public Citizen: Forget Larry
Public Citizen has launched a campaign against the possible nomination of Larry Summers to be President of the World Bank. Their website has sections called "Math is Hard" (referring to the scandal over Summers' comments on women's intellectual ability) and "Let Them Eat Waste" (referring to the scandal over Summers' "Africa is underpolluted" memo.)
Robert Weissman: The Summers of Our Discontent
"Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)?" Do those sound like the words of a man who should be running the world's leading economic development institution?
Emerging Markets: Support builds for Sachs World Bank bid
Jeffrey Sachs picks up endorsements from Chile, Uruguay, and Colombia.
Mark Weisbrot: Brazil Could Have an Impact by Supporting Sachs' Reform Candidacy for the World Bank Presidency
The pitch to the Brazilians.
Sachs Can Reform the World Bank
The pitch to the Canadians.
RT: 'UN should take responsibility for the wars in the Middle East'
Just Foreign Policy talks to RT on the anniversary of the US intervention in Libya and the war in Iraq.
Video: Nuclear Duck - Bibi Netanyahu vs. Daffy Duck
An Israeli spoof of Netanyahu's "nuclear duck" speech at AIPAC.
Haaretz: Iranians respond to Israeli Facebook initiative: Israel, we love you too
The 'Israel loves Iran' Facebook campaign has begun to receive numerous responses from Iranians to the Israeli initiative that called on Israelis to announce their love for the Iranians by posting pictures on Facebook.
1) US officials say a war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the US and leave hundreds of Americans dead, the New York Times reports. The game has raised fears among US planners that it may be impossible to preclude US involvement in any escalating confrontation with Iran, the officials said. That may give stronger voice to those in the White House, Pentagon and intelligence community who have warned that a strike could prove perilous for the US, the Times says.
2) Senior Israeli government and defense figures say Israeli officials now agree with the U.S. assessment that Iran has not yet decided on the actual construction of a nuclear bomb, AP reports.
3) The Obama administration plans to resume military aid to Egypt, invoking a waiver to the human rights requirements of U.S. law, the New York Times reports. Amnesty International denounced the idea. The Administration wants to act now because within weeks Egypt risks missing payments on defense contracts, largely with US arms manufacturers, the Times says.
4) Writing for Time, Tony Karon reports five tips for U.S. diplomacy with Iran based on a conversation with Trita Parsi. The five tips are: insulate diplomacy from domestic politics, broaden the agenda beyond the nuclear program to get easier agreements first, use mediators like Turkey and Brazil, accept that Iran will continue to enrich uranium, and put reduction in sanctions on the table in exchange for Iranian concessions.
5) Big financial players are trying to use trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO to block regulations governments would like to adopt in the wake of the financial crisis, Gretchen Morgenson reports in the New York Times. The Investment Industry Association of Canada claims the Volcker Rule of the Dodd-Frank law, which is intended to prevent financial companies from making bets for themselves with deposits backed by taxpayers, may violate NAFTA. The U.S. has blocked proposals to revisit trade rules to protect the ability to regulate, Morgenson says.
6) The New York Times has called a potential Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities "preemptive," writes Peter Beinart for the Daily Beast. But that's wrong. A "preemptive" attack is an attack you launch when the other side is about to attack you. What the Israeli government is considering is a "preventive" attack: the equivalent of shooting a guy you think may soon procure a gun. The media are picking up where Bush left off, using the wrong term for an Israeli strike on Iran and therefore implying, with no evidence, that Iran is on the verge of nuking Tel Aviv.
The Times also says that Israel "considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its existence," which is absurd, Beinart writes. Israel (singular) "considers" nothing; it's a nation of almost eight million people. Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to consider Iran an existential threat, and the implication of the Times is that his view is so widely shared that on this question, Israel virtually speaks as one. But that's simply not true. Netanyahu's own defense minister, Ehud Barak said in 2009 that "Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel." Meir Dagan, who led the Mossad, has said "I don't think there is an existential threat" from Iran. Late last year, his successor, current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, reportedly suggested the same thing. According to a recent Christian Science Monitor poll, a majority of Israelis disagree with Netanyahu as well.
7) The foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland decry loose talk of a military attack on Iran, in an op-ed in the New York Times. Such an attack would be a clear violation of the charter of the United Nations. A military attack against Iran risks igniting a period of confrontation across the region with consequences that no one can fully predict. Diplomacy is the only alternative for those seeking a lasting and sustainable solution to the Iran nuclear issue and peace in the region. The other options are recipes for war and in all probability a nuclear-armed Iran.
8) According to a report by Save the Children - Sweden and the East Jerusalem YMCA, dozens of Palestinian minors are detained every month by Israeli security forces, interrogated and pressured to report on others, AP reports. Many detained minors reported being denied sleep, and said they were blindfolded, shackled, slapped or bullied into making confessions. Confessions from two boys aged 14 and 15 feature heavily in the indictment against Bassem al-Tamimi, a protest leader in the village of Nabi Saleh, who has been designated a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International.
9) A UN report said Israeli settlers have taken over dozens of natural springs in the West Bank, limiting or preventing Palestinian access, AFP reports. The report said at least 30 springs across the West Bank had been completely taken over by settlers, with Palestinians unable to access them at all. Israeli authorities have systematically failed to stop these illegal actions, the UN says.
10) A Pakistani parliamentary commission demanded an end to US drone attacks, AP reports. Lawmakers will now debate the demands before voting on them, AP says.
11) Russia said it's ready to support a UN resolution endorsing Kofi Annan's plan for settling the Syrian crisis, AP reports. Foreign Minister Lavrov said Annan's plan doesn't contain a demand for Assad to step down.
12) Human Rights Watch accused some in Syria's armed opposition of carrying out serious abuses, including the kidnapping and torture of security forces, AP reports. Syria's opposition leadership has a responsibility to speak out and condemn such abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The group also said it has received reports of executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians.
1) U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran
Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, New York Times, March 19, 2012
Washington - A classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials.
The officials said the so-called war game was not designed as a rehearsal for American military action - and they emphasized that the exercise's results were not the only possible outcome of a real-world conflict.
But the game has raised fears among top American planners that it may be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating confrontation with Iran, the officials said. In the debate among policy makers over the consequences of any Israeli attack, that reaction may give stronger voice to those in the White House, Pentagon and intelligence community who have warned that a strike could prove perilous for the United States.
The results of the war game were particularly troubling to Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, according to officials who either participated in the Central Command exercise or who were briefed on the results and spoke on condition of anonymity because of its classified nature. When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.
The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans, according to officials with knowledge of the exercise. The United States then retaliated by carrying out its own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian nuclear program by roughly a year, and the subsequent American strikes did not slow the Iranian nuclear program by more than an additional two years. However, other Pentagon planners have said that America's arsenal of long-range bombers, refueling aircraft and precision missiles could do far more damage to the Iranian nuclear program - if President Obama were to decide on a full-scale retaliation.
The exercise was designed specifically to test internal military communications and coordination among battle staffs in the Pentagon; in Tampa, Fla., where the headquarters of the Central Command is located; and in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of an Israeli strike. But the exercise was written to assess a pressing, potential, real-world situation.
In the end, the war game reinforced to military officials the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of a strike by Israel, and a counterstrike by Iran, the officials said.
2) Israelis agree Iran hasn't decided on atom bomb,
Amy Teibel, AP, March 18, 2012
Despite saber-rattling from Jerusalem, Israeli officials now agree with the U.S. assessment that Tehran has not yet decided on the actual construction of a nuclear bomb, according to senior Israeli government and defense figures.
Even so, there is great concern in Israel about leaving Iran "on the cusp" of a bomb - explaining why Israel continues to hint at a military attack on Iran's nuclear installations before it moves enough of them underground to protect them from Israel's bombs.
Israel's leaders have been charging in no uncertain terms for years that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Though officials say they accept the more nuanced American view, they warn that it is just a matter of semantics, because an Iran on the verge of being able to build a bomb would still be a danger.
3) Despite Rights Concerns, U.S. Plans to Resume Egypt Aid
Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, March 15, 2012
Washington - The Obama administration plans to resume military aid to Egypt, American officials said on Thursday, signaling its willingness to remain deeply engaged with the generals now running the country despite concerns over abuses and a still-uncertain transition to democracy.
To restart the aid, which has been a cornerstone of American relations with Egypt for more than three decades, the administration plans on sidestepping a new Congressional requirement that for the first time directly links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to waive the requirement on national security grounds as soon as early next week, according to administration and Congressional officials. That would allow some, but not yet all of $1.3 billion in military aid this year to move forward, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so that they could discuss internal deliberations.
The threat that the military aid might end was a critical factor in the release by the Egyptian government of seven Americans employed by four American-financed international organizations that were involved in community organizing activities. The prosecutions of the Americans were part of broader concerns the Obama administration has had about Egypt's progress since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak a year ago.
The outcome is not likely to please either human rights advocates concerned about abuses by Egypt's security forces or many Egyptians, who have grown disillusioned with the military council and hostile toward American interference in Egyptian affairs. At a time of rising anti-American sentiment, the waiver may also alienate the revolutionaries and political reformers struggling to push the country toward civilian rule.
"Making such a certification would undermine the brave struggle of the Egyptian people for a society founded on respect for human rights and the rule of law," Adotei Akwei of Amnesty International USA wrote in a letter to Mrs. Clinton released on Thursday. "Waiving the certification requirement would forfeit a key form of pressure for the advancement of human rights."
Within the administration, some officials have argued that the certification should wait until the presidential election, but Egypt's military has exhausted previously authorized aid and has received no new American funds since the current fiscal year began in October.
Within weeks Egypt risks missing payments on defense contracts, largely with American arms manufacturers, forcing Mrs. Clinton to decide the certification question now. "It's coming up sooner than some people wanted," one senior official said.
But Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, said the administration needed to rethink assistance to Egypt after decades of focusing it largely on the military. "There's a much bigger question here," he said, "and that is: if we want to help a post-Mubarak Egypt, does the current aid package make the slightest bit of sense?"
4) Five Tips for President Obama on Nuclear Negotiations with Iran
Trita Parsi, author of "A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran," offers the President some advice based on what went wrong last time
Tony Karon, Time Magazine, March 20, 2012
President Barack Obama is rolling the dice again: he's desperate to avoid getting dragged into a war over Iran's nuclear program and appears to have restrained Israel - at least for now - from starting one by promising he'd do it himself if Tehran tried to build a nuclear weapon. And that means he really needs to make a success of the renewed diplomatic process he and Western allies are about to undertake with Iran. That reason alone should place by the President's bedside Trita Parsi's A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran, even if its critique would make uncomfortable reading for a President who may genuinely believe he has tried serious diplomacy with Iran. Based on interviews with dozens of top decisionmakers in the U.S., Iran, Israel and other stakeholder countries, Parsi concludes that the Obama Administration's efforts were fatally flawed because of the domestic political limitations and time constraints imposed on diplomacy, and Iran's domestic political turmoil. I asked Parsi, who is also the president of the National Iranian American Council, what five pointers he'd offer if asked by the White House for tips on improving the prospects for successful diplomacy with Iran. Herewith, Parsi's answers:
Lesson 1: Don't allow the domestic politics to define your strategy
A single roll of the diplomatic dice with Iran is unlikely to work any more effectively this time than it did in 2009. The best-case outcome is going to require a process that will take time and will require a willingness on both sides to make concessions in search of a solution that both can live with. And in order to achieve that, President Obama is going to have to create the political space for himself at home that sustains that process.
Lesson 2: Broaden the agenda beyond the nuclear program
There's no way for the parties to avoid the nuclear question, of course, but that shouldn't preclude discussion on other issues on which the sides can more easily find common ground and cooperate. The advantage of a broader agenda is that it potentially creates a dynamic of cooperation that can possibly help to create a measure of good faith that helps overcome obstacles and unblock the impasse to finding a solution to the nuclear question.
Lesson 3: Bring mediators into the conversation
The process the Administration is currently using for talks with Iran - negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group [the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China] is flawed, because there is no trust between the countries in the P5+1 and Iran. The Obama Administration has worked hard to make the P5+1 present a united front to Iran behind nuclear demands, and backed by limited U.N. sanctions. The reason for this strategy was to prevent Iran being able to play off different members of the P5+1 against one another. But bringing those countries closer to the U.S. position - albeit with major differences in their views on the nature of the nuclear issue in Iran, and how it may be resolved - has limited their ability to reach out to Tehran. So, these negotiations occur in an atmosphere of little trust. Prospects for progress will be greatly enhanced with help from countries that have relations of trust with both sides, such as Turkey and Brazil. The purpose of drawing them in would not be to replace the P5+1, but to complement its work by injecting more mutual confidence into the process. These are countries that don't have the same domestic political restraints on their negotiation abilities as does the U.S. and some of the other Western countries. And President Obama knows from experience the role they can play in forging breakthroughs - in 2010, Brazil and Turkey managed to get Iran's agreement to a fuel-swap deal, which was rejected by the U.S. as insufficient, even though Brazil and Turkey insist that it followed the terms laid down in a letter by Obama.
Lesson 4: Get real on uranium enrichment in Iran
The cat is out of the bag when it comes to the question of Iran enriching uranium for its nuclear program, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to force President Obama to declare his red lines. The Bush Administration had drawn a red line at Iran "mastering the technology of enrichment" - but Iran crossed that line six years ago, and once a technology is mastered, it can't be unlearned. Still, Israel, France and many in Washington had insisted that Iran could not be allowed to enrich uranium on its own soil, even in a certifiably peaceful nuclear program, because that technology gives Iran the means to build a bomb. The Obama Administration had been more ambiguous on the issue, at some points signaling a zero-enrichment policy and at other points accepting that once Iran had taken the steps necessary to assure the international community of its peaceful intent, it could exercise all the rights of a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty - which would include enriching uranium.
Netanyahu insisted that Obama draw his red line, and the President did so - at weaponization of nuclear material by Iran. The zero-enrichment demand was untenable to begin with; now President Obama needs to convince the French, and the Israelis and others at home that the best deal that can be achieved with Iran is one that verifiably contains Iran's nuclear program within verifiable limits that prevent weaponization. The advantage of pressing this goal now is that, as the Bush Administration learned, a solution that establishes confidence in Iran's intent remains elusive the more the West clings to the demand for Iran to abandon all enrichment, while Iran continues to make progress that creates irreversible facts on the ground.
Lesson 5: Sanctions only work if they can be lifted
America's leverage in the standoff with Iran depends not only on its ability to impose sanctions but also on its ability to lift them. The confidence-building concessions that the Western powers are going to demand of Iran - most immediately, it seems, the suspension of enrichment of uranium to 20% and the removal of Tehran's stockpile of uranium enriched to that degree - can only realistically be achieved by offering Iran something that it needs. And Iran is very likely to demand steps toward lifting of sanctions, particularly those sanctions that most painfully affect Iran's economy, i.e., those that impede its ability to sell oil and use the international banking system to trade on world markets. There have been reports that what the Western powers will offer in exchange for ending 20% enrichment will be a promise of no new U.N. sanctions against Iran, but that's unlikely to impress Tehran: right now the U.S. is unable to win Russian and Chinese consent for new U.N. sanctions anyway, and those currently in force are of negligible effect on Iran's economy. The sanctions that hurt Iran are those unilaterally adopted and enforced on others by the U.S. and the Europeans. And if some easing of those sanctions is not on the table from the U.S. side because an election-year domestic political environment militates against making concessions to Iran, then the U.S. will have to adjust its asks of Iran. Tehran is unlikely to be willing to give up something substantial in exchange for something it might deem insubstantial.
Moreover, by dramatically escalating sanctions - for example, cutting Iran off from the SWIFT system for processing international banking transactions last weekend - at the very same moment that a new round of talks has been scheduled reinforces an impression in Tehran that the U.S. goal is regime change, and that no concessions by Iran would be likely to stop the momentum of sanctions.
The Western powers go into the coming talks needing to hear that Iran is willing to offer complete transparency in its nuclear work, submit to the Additional Protocols of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that allow for more intrusive inspections and take verifiable steps that strengthen international confidence in the nonmilitary nature of its nuclear program. But for Iran to embark on a process, it needs to hear acceptance of its bottom line of retaining a civilian nuclear program, including the enrichment of uranium, if it submits to stricter procedures to verify its intent, and also that if Iran makes concessions, it will expect concessions from the other side.
And looking at Washington, right now you have to wonder whether President Obama can actually ease or lift sanctions, many of which - the SWIFT system cutoff would be the latest example - are acts of a far more hawkish Congress rather than Executive Orders by a President looking to use sanctions pressure to improve prospects for a deal. In Tehran's view, Washington has a credibility when it comes to its carrots, not its sticks. The balance between pressure and engagement during the Obama presidency has been radically tilted in favor of pressure - diplomacy has been given all of three weeks, sanctions three years. Sanctions pressure, of course, may seem the politically least costly option, but it's not necessarily the most effective one. To get a concession at the talks, and to get a process going, it is necessary to both demonstrate the willingness and ability to lift sanctions, granted that the Iranians accept significant limitations to their nuclear work.
5) Barriers to Change, From Wall St. and Geneva
Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times, March 17, 2012
In addition to lobbying, big financial players have another potential weapon in their battle against safety and soundness. This one is more hidden from view and comes from, of all places, the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
Back in the 1990s, when many in Washington - and virtually everyone on Wall Street - embraced the deregulation that helped lead to the recent crisis, a vast majority of W.T.O. nations made varying commitments to what's called the financial services agreement, which loosens rules governing banks and other such institutions.
Many countries, for instance, said they would not restrict the number of financial services companies in their territories. Many also pledged not to cap the total value of assets or transactions conducted by such companies. These pledges also appear to raise trouble for any country that tries to ban risky financial instruments.
According to the W.T.O., 125 of its 153 member countries have made varying degrees of commitments to the financial services agreement. Now, these pledges could easily be used to undermine new rules intended to make financial systems safer.
What would happen if a country flouted the rules in an attempt to reduce risks in its financial system? Possibly nothing. Then again, that country could find itself subject to a challenge by the W.T.O.
So far, no countries have asked the organization to challenge rule changes like those made in the United States under the Dodd-Frank law. But rumblings of such an objection emerged in late December, in a comment letter sent to United States banking regulators. That letter criticized elements of the Volcker Rule, which is intended to prevent financial companies from making bets for themselves with deposits backed by taxpayers.
The letter was written by the Investment Industry Association of Canada. It called the proposal "an unprecedented reach of extra-territorial regulation."
The letter went on: "As a result, the Volcker Rule may contravene the Nafta trade agreement," a reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has a broadly similar set of rules to the financial services agreement under the W.T.O. While countries must ask the W.T.O. to mount a challenge under its rules, companies can do so directly under Nafta.
Some countries that are trying to reregulate their financial systems worry that they may run afoul of trade commitments. The delegation for Barbados, for example, wrote last year about the trouble it might encounter imposing new rules while trying to abide by trade agreements.
"The notion of 'too big to fail' has been a concern even prior to the crisis, but the financial crisis realized banking regulators' worst fears," Barbados wrote to a W.T.O. committee in early 2011.
Yet nations that committed to the agreement in the 1990s "may find restrictions on size are contrary to the commitments given to limit adverse affects on financial service suppliers," the Barbados letter said.
Barbados suggested amending the agreement on financial services to provide more flexibility. Its proposal was rejected.
Last October, Ecuador asked that the W.T.O. review financial rules so that the country could preserve its ability to create regulations that ensure "the integrity and stability of the financial system."
Sounds reasonable enough. But that proposal was rejected by trade representatives for the United States, the European Union and Canada before it could be discussed at a December meeting in Geneva. Through a spokeswoman, Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative, declined to comment.
All this represents yet another paradox of our financial world: Even as our regulators try to devise a safer financial system, our trade representatives thwart efforts to reduce risks these operations pose to taxpayers.
6) Stop the Press on 'Preemptive': Media Adopt Pro-War Rhetoric on Iran
Peter Beinart, Newsweek/Daily Beast, March 19, 2012
Again and again, the [New York] Times has called a potential Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities "preemptive." But that's wrong. A "preemptive" attack is an attack you launch when the other side is about to attack you. It's the equivalent of shooting a guy reaching for his holster. What the Israeli government is considering is a "preventive" attack: the equivalent of shooting a guy you think may soon procure a gun. During the Iraq War debate, the Bush administration thumbed its nose at these definitions and called its impending invasion of Iraq "preemptive," thus implying that Saddam was on the verge of attacking the U.S. Now the media are picking up where Bush left off, using the wrong term for an Israeli strike on Iran and therefore implying, with no evidence, that Iran is on the verge of nuking Tel Aviv.
The second example, as a smart friend recently pointed out to me, is "existential threat." This month, a Times article declared that "Israel, which considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its existence, would not allow itself to be in a position where its fate was left in others' hands." The sentence is absurd. Israel (singular) "considers" nothing; it's a nation of almost eight million people. To be sure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to consider Iran an existential threat, and the implication of the Times article is that his view is so widely shared that on this question, Israel virtually speaks as one. But that's simply not true. Netanyahu's own defense minister, Ehud Barak, although reportedly open to military action, said in 2009 that "Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel." Meir Dagan, the man who led Israel's external spy agency, the Mossad, from 2002 to 2010, has said that "I don't think there is an existential threat" from Iran. Late last year, his successor, current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, reportedly suggested the same thing. According to a recent Christian Science Monitor poll, a majority of Israelis disagree with Netanyahu as well.
7) The Only Option on Iran
Carl Bildt and Erkki Tuomioja, New York Times, March 20, 2012
[Bildt and Tuomioja are foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland.]
We are deeply concerned about all the loose talk regarding a possible military attack on Iran because of the growing uncertainty over parts of its nuclear program.
Not only would such an attack be a clear violation of the charter of the United Nations. It could have severely negative repercussions across the region and be counterproductive to the very objectives it would seek to achieve.
It is difficult to see a single action more likely to drive Iran into taking the final decision to acquire nuclear weapons than an attack on the country. And once such a decision was made, it would only be a matter of time before a nuclear-armed Iran became a reality.
Serious analytical reports say that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until the end of 2003. We should not forget that these were years when it was widely assumed that Saddam Hussein, who had launched a devastating war against Iran, also had such a program. The years since then have been a period of hardened positions and strengthened sanctions, but also of missed diplomatic opportunities.
There is little doubt that there was an open Iranian attitude in 2003 and in the immediate period thereafter, but U.S. policy at the time barred exploration of the possibilities. There is little doubt that infighting in Iran after the 2009 election blocked its acceptance of a generous and constructive offer related to its research reactor. And there is, in our opinion, little doubt that we would be in a better position now had we further explored the diplomatic opening made by Turkey and Brazil in the spring of 2010.
But now diplomacy is to be given a new chance after nearly two years of inaction. This time, we should aim for a sustained diplomatic engagement that seeks to build trust through a series of steps, as bridging the immense gulf of mistrust will not be done in a day.
Iran has its rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but it also has its obligations. And it must understand that its behavior has created misgivings about its intentions. In its own interest, Iran should consider steps that could start to remedy that situation.
From 2003 to the beginning of 2006 Iran voluntarily applied the Additional Protocol, with its more comprehensive and intrusive inspection arrangement, and few steps would be more important in building confidence than Iran going back to abiding by this protocol. Indeed, this inspection regime, as well as full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, is key to any agreement between Iran and the international community on the nuclear issue.
Moreover, it now seems that Iran will have soon completed enriching uranium to 20 percent, which it says it needs for its research reactor. It would make sense to then suspend these activities. New research reactors will take a long time to build, so international safeguards for them could be put in place.
We remain deeply critical of the human rights situation in Iran, and will continue to bring this to the attention of the world. Nevertheless, the countries that will soon restart talks with Iran should state that their goal is not to change the regime in Tehran but rather to engage with Iran in a comprehensive fashion on a broad range of issues.
We have, for example, a deep interest in the modernization of Iran, and we should declare our readiness to help with this as well. The modernization of its energy sector is urgent. Given Iran's diversified economy, the future potential of the country is substantial.
A military attack against Iran risks igniting a period of confrontation across the region with consequences that no one can fully predict. The turmoil could end up producing several nuclear-armed states in what is probably the most volatile area of the world. And there could be war both with and within the Muslim world.
The argument is not only about giving diplomacy a chance. It is about recognizing that diplomacy is the only alternative for those seeking a lasting and sustainable solution to the Iran nuclear issue and peace in the region. The other options are recipes for war and in all probability a nuclear-armed Iran.
The recent report by the International Crisis Group has described the options on the table. Diplomacy requires determination and patience. But most important of all, it requires the recognition that it is the only option we have.
8) Israel policy of detaining kids questioned
Diaa Hadid, Associated Press, Sat, Mar 17, 2012
Beit Umar, West Bank - When Mahmoud al-Alami was 9 years old, an Israeli soldier caught him throwing rocks, took him out of his uncle's arms, slung him over his shoulders and carried him away.
Mahmoud, now 10, says he was subsequently blindfolded and shackled, slapped and ordered to confess to throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and identify other children doing the same.
Mahmoud is among dozens of Palestinian minors who are detained every month by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, interrogated and pressured to report on others, according to a report issued this week.
The report, by the Swedish branch of the organization Save the Children and the East Jerusalem YMCA, examined the cases of 297 minors aged 17 and under who were detained in 2011, most of them in nighttime raids on their homes after Israeli forces accused them of throwing stones.
The detentions are drawing criticism from human rights groups, which say they traumatize the children and violate their rights.
From 2005 through 2010, 834 minors 17 and younger were brought before Israeli military courts on stone-throwing charges, according to the Israeli rights group B'tselem. Of these, 288 - around a third - were between 12 and 15 years old. All but one were found guilty, mostly in plea bargains, and spent a few weeks to a few months in jail.
Rights activists say the interrogations of children and use of their confessions are particularly problematic.
Confessions from two boys aged 14 and 15 feature heavily in the indictment against Bassem al-Tamimi, a 45-year-old protest leader in the village of Nabi Saleh, who has been designated a "prisoner of conscience" by London-based Amnesty International. Al-Tamimi has been held since March 2011 on charges of inciting youths to throw rocks and organizing demonstrations.
Israeli forces taped their interrogation with the boys to use as part of their case against al-Tamimi. One of videos, edited to about 40 minutes from the 5-hour interrogation, was uploaded to YouTube by activists who obtained the footage from defense lawyers.
It shows one of the youths, Islam Dar-Ayyoub, then 14, tired and yawning. He wasn't allowed to sleep, eat or go to the toilet, said Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack, who is following the case. In the video, he sometimes cries as two, sometimes three adults pester him with questions.
Many detained minors reported being denied sleep, said they were blindfolded, shackled, slapped or bullied into making confessions, according to the report by Save the Children, issued Monday. Most said they weren't told their rights. The report [said] many of the children suffered subsequent trauma, ranging from panic attacks, depression and aggression.
The children were held for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, the group said.
The arrests warp relations in tightknit villages too because children are bullied to confess against their neighbors. Parents fight over whose child squealed on whom, said Fatima Awad, 50, whose son Mohammed was imprisoned for six weeks at age 14 for throwing rocks.
9) Settlers taking over Palestinian springs: UN report
AFP, Mon, Mar 19, 2012
Israeli settlers have taken over dozens of natural springs in the West Bank, limiting or preventing Palestinian access to much-needed water sources, a United Nations report said on Monday. The report produced by the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 30 springs across the West Bank had been completely taken over by settlers, with Palestinians unable to access them at all.
In most instances, the report said, "Palestinians have been deterred from accessing the springs by acts of intimidation, threats and violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers."
The report said an OCHA survey carried out in 2011 identified a total of 56 springs that were under total or partial control of Israeli settlers, most in the part of the West Bank known as Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and military control.
"Springs have remained the single largest water source for irrigation and a significant source for watering livestock" for Palestinians, OCHA said, noting that some springs also provide water for domestic consumption. "The loss of access to springs and adjacent land reduced the income of affected farmers, who either stop cultivating the land or face a reduction in the productivity of their crops."
The report said in most cases where settlers were trying to limit Palestinian access to springs, they have undertaken to turn the area into a tourist attraction, constructing pools, picnic areas and signs carrying a Hebrew name for the spring. "Such works were carried out without building permits," the report said.
OCHA said the takeover of springs was an extension of settlement activity in the West Bank, which it pointed out is illegal under international law. And it added that settler actions including "trespass, intimidation and physical assault, stealing of private property, and construction without a building permit," are also violations of Israeli law.
"Yet, the Israel authorities have systematically failed to enforce the law on those responsible for these acts and to provide Palestinians with any effective remedy," it said.
OCHA called on Israel to stop the expansion of settlements, "restore Palestinian access to the water springs taken over by settlers," and to "conduct effective investigations into cases of settler violence and trespass."
10) Pakistani parliament demands end to U.S. drones
AP, March 20, 2012
Islamabad – A Pakistani parliamentary commission demanded on Tuesday an end to American drone attacks inside the country as part of proposed new terms of engagement with the United States.
The demand could complicate efforts to rebuild U.S.-Pakistani ties that were all but severed by U.S. airstrikes in November along the Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The attack also led to Pakistan's closure of NATO supply lines to Afghanistan.
The parliament commission suggested Tuesday that the supply lines would not be permanently cut, as many Pakistanis would like, though it did not explicitly link the issue of the drones and the border closure.
Lawmakers will now debate the demands, something that will last two or three days, before voting on them.
11) Russia offers to back Annan's Syria plan at UN
Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press, March 20, 2012
Moscow - Russia said Tuesday it's ready to support a United Nations resolution endorsing Kofi Annan's plan for settling the Syrian crisis, signaling it is prepared to raise the pressure on its old ally.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that the resolution shouldn't turn into an ultimatum to the Syrian government, setting the stage for tough bargaining over the wording of the document at the U.N. Security Council.
But Lavrov appeared to indicate Russia's growing impatience with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government he said made "many mistakes" that led to a worsening of the conflict.
Russia and China have twice shielded Assad's regime from U.N. sanctions over its yearlong crackdown on protesters, in which more than 8,000 people have died. But the Kremlin has also offered strong support to Annan, a former United Nations secretary-general who is the joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy.
Annan met twice with Assad earlier this month and made proposals to end the bloodshed, which haven't yet been made public.
Lavrov said that Annan's proposals should now be unveiled, adding that Moscow stands ready to back a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting them.
"The Security Council should support them, not as an ultimatum but as a basis for the continuing efforts by Kofi Annan aimed at reaching accord among all Syrians, the government and all opposition groups on all key issues, such as humanitarian corridors, halting hostilities by all parties, the beginning of a political dialogue and offering access to the media," Lavrov said at a news conference following talks in Moscow with his Lebanese counterpart.
Lavrov said over the weekend that Annan's plan doesn't contain a demand for Assad to step down. On Tuesday, he reaffirmed Russia's call for a simultaneous cease-fire by the government and the opposition forces. Syria insists that the opposition cease-fire first; the United States demands that Assad's military halts its offense first, followed by the opposition.
Lavrov also said that a Russian navy oil tanker anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus is on a mission to assist Russian navy ships on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. He scoffed at media reports alleging a Russian military buildup in Syria, saying that the servicemen aboard the tanker are needed to protect it from pirates in the waters off Africa's coast.
The foreign minister's statement followed Moscow's strong call on the Syrian government to open humanitarian corridors to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to treat the victims of the fighting. Moscow also urged Damascus to grant the Red Cross access to jailed protesters.
While Russia had previously backed the ICRC's call for a cease-fire, Monday's statement from the Foreign Ministry that followed Lavrov's talks with the ICRC chief was worded stronger than previous ones.
Speaking before Russian parliament last week, Lavrov criticized Assad for being too slow to implement long-needed reforms and warned that the conflict in the Arab state could spiral out of control. He also complained in a weekend interview with state television about the "unproportionate" use of force by government troops and said Moscow disagrees with many of the decisions made by the Syrian leadership.
"We support the need to start a political process, and to do that it's necessary to have a cease-fire first," Lavrov said. "Russia will do everything for that, irrespective of the decisions made by the Syrian government. We disagree with many of those, by the way."
12) Human Rights Watch accuses some armed Syrian opposition forces of abusing regime troops
Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Associated Press, March 20, 2012
Beirut - An international human rights group Tuesday accused some in Syria's armed opposition of carrying out serious abuses, including the kidnapping and torture of security forces, in a sign of the growing complexity of the year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The statement by Human Rights Watch comes as Syria's rebellion transforms into an insurgency, with army defectors and other government opponents taking up arms to drive out Assad. The development has added another violent dimension to a conflict that already has killed 8,000 people since last March.
"The Syrian government's brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap, or execute under any circumstances."
The New York-based Human Rights Watch made Tuesday's statement in an open letter to the opposition Syrian National Council. The group stressed that many of the anti-government groups reported to be carrying out abuses do not appear to belong to an organized command structure or to be following orders from the Syrian National Council.
But Syria's opposition leadership has a responsibility to speak out and condemn such abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The group also said it has received reports of executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians.
The report cited witnesses who told Human Rights Watch that armed groups identifying themselves with the opposition are kidnapping both civilians and members of the security forces.
An activist identified as Mazen said he learned that three people who worked with the government had been tortured to death in Idlib in northern Syria, an opposition stronghold.
Another Syrian activist identified as Samih told HRW that members of the Free Syrian Army were kidnapping soldiers. "They would kidnap them and ask their parents to pay a ransom to let them go," Samih said, according to Human Rights Watch. The Free Syrian Army denied kidnapping soldiers, saying they were detaining them during military operations.
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