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JFP 4/2: NYT calls out UN on Haiti cholera; U.S. moves towards backing Syria rebels
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 2 April 2012 - 5:49pm
Just Foreign Policy News, April 2, 2012
NYT calls out UN on Haiti cholera; U.S. moves towards backing Syria rebels
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Senator Rand Paul Calls the Question on War with Iran
Rand Paul blocked unanimous consent on new Iran sanctions, demanding consideration of his amendment affirming that nothing in the bill authorizes the use of military force in Iran or Syria.
*Action: Urge your Senators to follow suit
Ask your Senators to support language affirming that there is no authorization for military force.
Gareth Porter: Israel Shields Public from Risks of War with Iran
The Israeli government is telling the Israeli public that Iran's ability to retaliate for an Israeli strike is "very limited." But a former head of Israel's missile defense takes a much more sober view of the possible effects of an Iranian counterstrike.
CBS: Support for war in Afghanistan hits all-time low
About 60% of Republicans say the U.S. should "not be involved in Afghanistan now," while only 32% of Republicans say the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting in Afghanistan.
Jerusalem Post: AIPAC is lobbying Congress for war
"Congressional offices reported they were impressed by the numbers and enthusiasm of AIPAC members lobbying them for tighter sanctions but privately complained that the lobby group was pushing too hard for another war when their ... increasingly war weary constituents were calling for accelerating the withdrawal from Afghanistan," the report says. "One of [Netanyahu's] objectives is to help defeat the incumbent because Obama in a 2nd term might not be so easily bullied," claims the subhead.
Military Wives: It Could Have Been My Husband
About Karilyn Bales, the wife of a soldier accused of carrying out a massacre in Afghanistan, military wives are saying: "There but for the grace of God go I."
Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control
April 28-29, 2012 - Washington, DC
The peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights are hosting the first international drone summit.
1) Some U.S. officials are worried that "tough talk" on Iran contributes to a sense that war may be unavoidable, and worry that the debate will take on a momentum of its own, the New York Times reports. Some U.S. officials clearly feel that diplomatic options for resolving the crisis are being overlooked amid all the talk about force, the Times says.
2) International efforts to address the cholera outbreak in Haiti were impeded by the UN's unwillingness to acknowledge its apparent role in introducing cholera to Haiti, the New York Times reports. After another winter without an aggressive prevention and eradication effort, health authorities fear a reprise. "I think it's going to be another bad year for cholera," said Dr. John Carroll, an Illinois doctor who works in Haiti.
3) The U.S. moved closer to direct intervention in the fighting in Syria, with the Obama administration agreeing to send communications equipment to help rebels organize and evade Syria's military, the New York Times reports. [The moves towards greater foreign assistance for armed rebels appear to contradict UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's call for the conflict not to be further militarized. 'Annan ... [said] "militarisation" of the conflict would only make it worse and said he aimed to reach a political settlement through dialogue. The former UN chief ... cautioned against military intervention, saying it had worsened other conflicts in the region.' http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/2012395338279440.html - JFP.]
4) Obama administration officials believe that the security cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran, Mark Perry reports for Foreign Policy. Four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the U.S. has concluded that Israel has been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border. If Israeli planes could land in Azerbaijan after a strike, that would mitigate Israel's refueling problem. U.S. officials said they were "not happy" about the development.
5) Some speculate that U.S. officials leaked the story about Israel's relationship with Azerbaijan in order to scuttle Israel's plans, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "I think this leak today is part of the administration's campaign against an Israeli attack," former US diplomat [and Iran war hawk -JFP] John Bolton said.
6) Israel's intelligence services have scaled back covert operations inside Iran, including assassinations and detonations at Iranian missile bases, Time reports. [In explaining this development, the article lays emphasis on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's reported fear that a botched operation could badly backfire. But the shift coincides with a recent apparent shift in U.S. policy, with the U.S. having strongly denounced the last killing of an Iranian scientist and U.S. officials subsequently fingering Israeli intelligence in the killing. This suggests a greater degree of U.S. influence on the question than some have allowed - JFP.]
7) J Street is telling Congress that not all American Jews support a military strike on Iran, either by Israel or by the United States, the New York Times reports. J Street is telling Congress that supporting Israel does not mean agreeing with everything advocated by the country's conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Times says.
8) Honduras is on the verge of becoming the only country in the world that criminalizes the emergency contraceptive pill, Amnesty International reports.
9) Nearly half of all the Democrats in the House, including some in leadership positions, have written to the Obama Administration asking it "to suspend US assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces," notes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. But major U.S. media ignored the letter, even though Honduras was in the news when Vice-President Biden visited. There has been no response so far from the State Department, other than an attempt to misrepresent the letter as calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. aid.
10) A report by the Congressional Research Service says Iran's "workshops" for making nuclear centrifuges and components for the devices are widely dispersed and hidden, adding to the difficulties of a potential military strike by Israel, Bloomberg reports. "An attack that left Iran's conversion and centrifuge production facilities intact would considerably reduce" the time Iran would need to resume its nuclear work, said the report. A former U.S. official said Iran probably could rebuild or replicate most centrifuge workshops within six months.
11) Iran said it backs a U.N.-sponsored peace plan for Syria, Reuters reports.
12) As it prepares to take power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is overhauling its relations with the two main Palestinian factions in an effort to put new pressure on Israel for an independent Palestinian state, the New York Times reports. Brotherhood officials are pressing Hamas to reconcile with Fatah, the Times says. Brotherhood leaders argue that if they persuade the Palestinians to work together with a newly assertive Egypt, they will have far more success forcing Israel to bargain in earnest over the terms of statehood.
13) Newly released maps indicate Israel is secretly setting aside additional land for Jewish settlements, presumably with the intention of expanding them, Haaretz reports. Israel has argued before the Israeli High Court and the World Court that the route of its "separation barrier" was based on Israel's security needs, Haaretz notes. But the maps suggest the barrier route was planned in accordance with the available land in the West Bank, intended to increase the area and population of the settlements, Haaretz says.
1) Hard Line on Iran Places White House in a Bind
Mark Landler, Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper, New York Times, March 29, 2012
Washington - As American and European diplomats prepare for crucial negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the White House finds itself caught in a bind: for the diplomatic effort to work, American officials say, the Iranian government must believe that President Obama is ready and willing to take military action.
Yet tough talk, necessary as it might be for successful diplomacy, contributes to a sense that war may be unavoidable. And it masks the fact that Mr. Obama, and his military commanders, remain deeply worried about the consequence of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, either by Israel alone or a strike that could draw in the United States.
"Obama had two main objectives - to deflect Israeli pressure to conduct or acquiesce in a premature war, and to neutralize Republican criticism that he is too soft on Iran and too hard on Israel," said Robert Malley, program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. "On those fronts, mission accomplished."
But, Mr. Malley added, "victory came at a price." By stating clearly that containment of a nuclear-armed Iran is off the table, Mr. Obama may have committed America to military action to halt Iran if other means fail to do so, Mr. Malley said.
Some White House officials acknowledge that in an election year when Republican candidates are calling for tougher action against Iran, the misgivings expressed by the Pentagon - both publicly and privately - over a strike could provide the president with some political cover.
A classified war simulation conducted by United States Central Command this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli airstrike, for example, found that an Israeli attack could lead to a wider regional war, draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, providing recent evidence to the skeptics - not only in the Pentagon but also in the White House and intelligence community as well - who have warned that any action by Israel against Iran could prove perilous.
And even Israeli officials who have pushed for tougher action from the United States say they would much rather see a diplomatic end to the crisis. "At the end of the day, Israel doesn't want to strike Iran either," one Western diplomat said.
Added David Makovsky, an Israel expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "The next move on the chess board is diplomacy. It has to be diplomacy, and there has to be an effort to get diplomacy to work."
But some White House officials clearly feel that diplomatic options for resolving the crisis are being overlooked amid all the talk about force. The risk, they say, is that the debate will take on a momentum of its own.
Mr. Obama, after his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel this month, warned Republican candidates and others against "loose talk" of war. Yet at a news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, the president said the window for diplomacy with Iran was "shrinking."
But unlike the internal administration debate over Afghanistan, the White House and Pentagon appear to be on the same page about Iran. Whatever the cliché about military leaders being more gung ho about going to war than their civilian counterparts, the reality is that the American military has often led the argument against military engagement, including in the recent conflict in Libya, past conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda, and even now on the question of whether the United States should engage militarily in Syria.
The concern about going to war with Iran that is emanating from the Pentagon did not start with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. His predecessor, Robert M. Gates, as well as Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were equally outspoken.
"Both of those guys were counseling on the risks of military action, and quite publicly," said a senior military official. "Their successors have reaffirmed that - and that is where the building's leadership is on this."
The warnings, officials said, reflect the assessments by both leaders that an Israeli preventive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities may provoke a round of counterattacks that might lead to a wider war that would involve the United States after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials said they were aware of reports in the Israeli news media of high-level unhappiness, up to and including the office of Mr. Netanyahu, at the stern warnings issued by Mr. Panetta and General Dempsey.
Several military officials said the cautious tone set by Mr. Panetta and General Dempsey flowed directly from the fact that one of the military's metrics in weighing potential conflict is the body bag. "We are going to bear the brunt of any retaliation from Iran," said another senior military officer. "It will be our men and women, whether overt and ugly or covert and just as ugly."
2) In Haiti, Global Failures on a Cholera Epidemic
Deborah Sontag, New York Times, March 31, 2012
Mirebalais, Haiti -
In the 17 months since Mr. Pelette was buried in the trash-strewn graveyard here, cholera has killed more than 7,050 Haitians and sickened more than 531,000, or 5 percent of the population. Lightning fast and virulent, it spread from here through every Haitian state, erupting into the world's largest cholera epidemic despite a huge international mobilization still dealing with the effects of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.
The world rallied to confront cholera, too, but the mission was muddled by the United Nations' apparent role in igniting the epidemic and its unwillingness to acknowledge it. Epidemiologic and microbiologic evidence strongly suggests that United Nations peacekeeping troops from Nepal imported cholera to Haiti, contaminated the river tributary next to their base through a faulty sanitation system and caused a second disaster.
"It was like throwing a lighted match into a gasoline-filled room," said Dr. Paul S. Keim, a microbial geneticist whose laboratory determined that the Haitian and Nepalese cholera strains were virtually identical.
And, as the deaths and continuing caseload indicate, the world's response to this preventable, treatable scourge has proved inadequate. Cholera, never before recorded in Haiti, stayed one step ahead of the authorities as they shifted gears from the earthquake recovery. While eventually effective in reducing the fatality rate, the response was slow to get fully under way, conservative and insufficiently sustained.
"In the future, historians will look back and say, 'Wow, that's unfortunate,' " said Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, a nongovernmental organization that provides health care for the poor. "This unfolded right under the noses of all those NGOs. And they will ask, 'Why didn't they try harder? Why didn't they throw the kitchen sink at cholera in Haiti?' "
Many health officials consider the cholera response "pretty remarkable," as John Vertefeuille, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's director in Haiti, said.
A sky-high initial fatality rate of over 9 percent has declined to 1.3 percent (less than 1 percent is considered a well-managed epidemic). And the most recent statistics show new cases dropping to 120 daily.
Others, though, believe the bar for success was set too low and more lives could have been saved. Some critics bemoan weak disease surveillance and case-tracking, others inadequate water distribution and latrine building, and still others what they see as a penny-pinching reluctance to use antibiotics and cholera vaccine.
Also, some think cholera could have been stymied, even eradicated, last winter during the dry season after the first wave. Instead, it flared with the rains even as aid groups shuttered or reduced operations. And now, after another winter without an aggressive prevention and eradication effort, the health authorities fear a reprise.
"I think it's going to be another bad year for cholera," said Dr. John Carroll, an Illinois doctor who works in Haiti.
3) U.S. Joins Effort to Equip and Pay Rebels in Syria
Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, April 1, 2012
Istanbul - The United States and dozens of other countries moved closer on Sunday to direct intervention in the fighting in Syria, with Arab nations pledging $100 million to pay opposition fighters and the Obama administration agreeing to send communications equipment to help rebels organize and evade Syria's military, according to participants gathered here.
The moves reflected a growing consensus, at least among the officials who met here this weekend under the rubric "Friends of Syria," that mediation efforts by the United Nations peace envoy, Kofi Annan, were failing to halt the violence that is heading into its second year in Syria and that more forceful action was needed.
With Russia and China blocking United Nations measures that could open the way for military action, the countries lined up against the government of President Bashar al-Assad sought to bolster Syria's beleaguered opposition through means that seemed to stretch the definition of humanitarian assistance and blur the line between so-called lethal and nonlethal support.
There remains no agreement on arming the rebels, as countries like Saudi Arabia and some members of Congress have called for, largely because of the uncertainty regarding who exactly would receive the arms.
Still, the offer to provide salaries and communications equipment to rebel fighters known as the Free Syrian Army - with the hopes that the money might encourage government soldiers to defect, officials said - is bringing the loose Friends of Syria coalition to the edge of a proxy war against Mr. Assad's government and its international supporters, principally Iran and Russia.
Molham al-Drobi, a member of the Syrian National Council, said that the opposition had pledges of $176 million in humanitarian assistance and $100 million in salaries over three months for the fighters inside Syria. Some money was already flowing to the fighters, he said, including $500,000 last week through "a mechanism that I cannot disclose now."
The countries providing most of the money for salaries - Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - have long been the fiercest opponents of Mr. Assad's rule, reflecting the sectarian split in the Arab world between Sunnis and Shiites. Mr. Assad and his inner circle are Alawites, a Shiite minority offshoot that has nonetheless dominated political and economic life in Syria, despite its majority Sunni population.
4) Israel's Secret Staging Ground
U.S. officials believe that the Israelis have gained access to airbases in Azerbaijan. Does this bring them one step closer to a war with Iran?
Mark Perry, Foreign Policy, March 28, 2012
In 2009, the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Baku, Donald Lu, sent a cable to the State Department's headquarters in Foggy Bottom titled "Azerbaijan's discreet symbiosis with Israel." The memo, later released by WikiLeaks, quotes Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev as describing his country's relationship with the Jewish state as an iceberg: "nine-tenths of it is below the surface."
Why does it matter? Because Azerbaijan is strategically located on Iran's northern border and, according to several high-level sources I've spoken with inside the U.S. government, Obama administration officials now believe that the "submerged" aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance -- the security cooperation between the two countries -- is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran.
In particular, four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. "The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior administration official told me in early February, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."
Senior U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Israel's military expansion into Azerbaijan complicates U.S. efforts to dampen Israeli-Iranian tensions, according to the sources. Military planners, I was told, must now plan not only for a war scenario that includes the Persian Gulf -- but one that could include the Caucasus. The burgeoning Israel-Azerbaijan relationship has also become a flashpoint in both countries' relationship with Turkey, a regional heavyweight that fears the economic and political fallout of a war with Iran. Turkey's most senior government officials have raised their concerns with their U.S. counterparts, as well as with the Azeris, the sources said.
During a recent visit to Tehran, however, Azerbaijan's defense minister publicly ruled out the use of Azerbaijan for a strike on Iran. "The Republic of Azerbaijan, like always in the past, will never permit any country to take advantage of its land, or air, against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which we consider our brother and friend country," he said. (Following the publication of this article, an Azeri spokesman denied that his government had granted Israel access to Azeri airbases.)
But even if his government makes good on that promise, it could still provide Israel with essential support. A U.S. military intelligence officer noted that Azeri defense minister did not explicitly bar Israeli bombers from landing in the country after a strike. Nor did he rule out the basing of Israeli search-and-rescue units in the country. Proffering such landing rights -- and mounting search and rescue operations closer to Iran -- would make an Israeli attack on Iran easier.
"We're watching what Iran does closely," one of the U.S. sources, an intelligence officer engaged in assessing the ramifications of a prospective Israeli attack confirmed. "But we're now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we're not happy about it."
5) Attacking Iran: Did US just torpedo Israeli deal for a base in Azerbaijan?
Israel is developing a 'secret staging ground' in Azerbaijan for a possible attack on Iran, reports Foreign Policy magazine. US officials aren't happy with that, and may have leaked the story.
Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 2012
The three-way tension between the United States, Israel, and Iran became tenser this week with a widely cited report that Israel is developing a "secret staging ground" in Iran's neighbor to the north – Azerbaijan – for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Quoting unnamed senior US diplomats and military intelligence officials, a lengthy article in Foreign Policy magazine asserts that "Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border."
"The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior administration official is quoted as saying, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."
Why would US officials be talking about this? Likely to slow down any rush to war in an already volatile region, some speculate.
"I think this leak today is part of the administration's campaign against an Israeli attack," former US diplomat John Bolton said Thursday on Fox News.
6) Mossad Cutting Back on Covert Operations Inside Iran, Officials Say
Karl Vick, Time Magazine, March 30, 2012
Israel's intelligence services have scaled back covert operations inside Iran, ratcheting down by "dozens of percent" in recent months secret efforts to disable or delay the enemy state's nuclear program, senior Israeli security officials tell TIME. The reduction runs across a wide spectrum of operations, cutting back not only alleged high-profile missions such as assassinations and detonations at Iranian missile bases, but also efforts to gather firsthand on-the-ground intelligence and recruit spies inside the Iranian program, according to the officials.
The new hesitancy has caused "increasing dissatisfaction" inside Mossad, Israel's overseas spy agency, says one official. Another senior security officer attributes the reluctance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the official describes as worried about the consequences of a covert operation being discovered or going awry. Netanyahu was Prime Minister in 1997 when a Mossad attempt to assassinate senior Hamas official Khaled Meshaal in Amman Jordan ended in fiasco. Two Mossad operatives were captured after applying a poison to Meshaal's skin, and returned to Israel only after Netanyahu ordered the release of the antidote. The Prime Minister also was forced to release Hamas' spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin from an Israeli prison, dramatically boosting the fortunes of the religious militant movement.
Iranian intelligence already has cracked one cell trained and equipped by Mossad, Western intelligence officials earlier confirmed to TIME. The detailed confession on Iranian state television last year by Majid Jamali Fashid for the January 2010 assassination by motorcycle bomb of nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohmmadi was genuine, those officials said, blaming a third country for exposing the cell.
With the Iranian issue at the forefront of the international agenda, a similar embarrassment could undo the impressive global front Washington has assembled against the mullahs - perhaps by allowing Iran to cast itself as victim, or simply by recasting the nuclear issue itself, from one of overarching global concern into a contest confined to a pair of longtime enemies.
Some warn that the assassinations already run that risk. After the most recent killing, of nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in January, the United States "categorically" denied involvement in the death and issued a condemnation. Western intelligence officials say he was at least the third Iranian scientist killed by Mossad operatives, who lately are running short of new targets, according to Israeli officials.
"It undercuts the consensus, the international consensus on sanctions," says Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department nuclear proliferation specialist who opposes the assassinations.
The covert campaign also invites retribution from Iran's own far-reaching underground. In the space of just days last month, alleged Iranian plots against Israeli targets in Thailand, Azerbaijan, Singapore and Georgia were announced as thwarted, and Indian officials blamed Iran for a nearly fatal attack that went forward in New Delhi. The wife of an Israeli diplomat was injured by a magnetic bomb attached to her car by a passing motorcyclist, the precise method Israeli agents are alleged to have used repeatedly on the crowded streets of Tehran.
7) Israel Group Adds a Softer Voice to Debate on Iran
Helene Cooper, New York Times, March 27, 2012
Washington - Memo to Congress: Not all American Jews support a military strike on Iran, either by Israel or by the United States.
Members of J Street, the dovish pro-Israel group formed four years ago in part as an alternative to the more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee, made that point on Tuesday when they descended on Capitol Hill as part of an effort to convince lawmakers that supporting Israel does not mean agreeing with everything advocated by the country's conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
"There's a myth that the so-called Jewish vote is a monolithic vote in favor of a militaristic position in support of Israel," said Elaine Tyler May, a professor at the University of Minnesota, who came to Washington for J Street's annual conference and met on Tuesday with Representative Keith Ellison and Senator Amy Klobuchar, both Minnesota Democrats. Instead, Ms. May maintained, "the vast majority of American Jews believe the United States should take a leadership role on a peace agreement, even if it means disagreeing with the Israeli leadership."
Some 700 J Street members turned up to meet with 225 Congressional representatives, or their staff members, from both sides of the aisle. But in numbers and in political clout, the J Street contingent was dwarfed by Aipac's annual conference three weeks ago.
But J Street leaders seemed determined this week to add their own, softer voice to the debate.
"There is more than just one way to be a good Jew," the Israeli author Amos Oz told the crowd during the conference's opening night on Saturday. "Let us all be united, but why unite under the militant, hawkish, extremist manner of Aipac?"
Stav Shaffir, a leader of the social protest movement in Israel that has been called the Israeli Spring, directly took on Mr. Netanyahu, who during his own speech to Aipac compared Iran to Nazi Germany and his trip to Washington to garner support for a tougher line against Iran to a plea from the American Jewish community to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to bomb Auschwitz during World War II.
Roosevelt denied the request, Mr. Netanyahu reminded the Aipac conference, and justified his decision with arguments that Mr. Netanyahu said were similar to those used today by people who object to a military strike against Iran. "None of us can afford to wait much longer," Mr. Netanyahu said.
Ms. Shaffir disagreed. "A month ago, my prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, came to Washington and shamefully compared our lives to those of our grandparents who lived in the ghettos," she said, "as if we were doomed to live under permanent, intractable threat, as if Israel were the modern incarnation of the ghetto."
"We don't want this," she added.
With Israeli leaders warning of an existential threat from Iran and openly discussing the possibility of attacking its nuclear facilities, J Street has been sprinting to impress on members of Congress their argument that more hawkish groups like Aipac and the Emergency Committee for Israel, which push for tougher action against Iran, do not speak for all Jews. The clear fissures that have emerged demonstrate the divisions within the American Jewish community.
8) Honduras Set To Ban Emergency Contraceptive
Urgent Action, Amnesty International, 28 March 2012
Honduras is on the verge of becoming the only country in the world that criminalizes the emergency contraceptive pill due to a Supreme Court conclusion that a ban is not unconstitutional . Women and girls who have been raped or whose contraceptive method has failed will no longer have the option of emergency contraception. The fundamental rights of Honduran women and girls are in jeopardy.
On 1 February the Supreme Court in Honduras upheld a decree imposing an absolute ban on emergency contraception. This decree had been vetoed in May 2009 by the then President of the Republic of Honduras on grounds that it conflicted with the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has now concluded that the decree is constitutional and that Congress could proceed to develop laws to enforce a ban of the emergency contraceptive pill (also sometimes referred to as the "morning after pill") on the basis that the judges viewed it as "abortive".
The World Health Organisation and the Pan-American Health Organisation, amongst other expert bodies have all clearly stated that the emergency contraceptive pill is not abortive and is a form of contraception which works by ensuring the egg is inaccessible and impeding sperm from fertilising it.
Access to emergency contraception can be a critical tool in preventing unwanted pregnancies. If the criminalisation of the emergency contraceptive pill is carried out, it will have appalling consequences for women and girls. For example, rape victims will be unable to prevent pregnancy and mitigate one of the potential consequences of the crime they have endured. Banning the emergency contraceptive pill will also leave women and girls with no alternative contraception in situations where other contraceptive methods fail.
9) Democrats press Obama over US complicity with Honduras' dirty war
America's backing for a regime that is murdering opponents and journalists is a shameful blot on this administration's record
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, 22 March 2012 13.51 EDT
Hondurans are still suffering from the effects of the June 2009 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Manuel Zelaya. The coup has unleashed a wave of violence against political opposition, journalists, small farmers and others, with impunity for the security forces that have been implicated in these killings. This is exactly what those who opposed the coup regime – and its consolidation of power with marred "elections" in November 2009 – feared would happen.
On the wrong side of this fight was the Obama administration, which – after some hesitation – made some statements against the coup but went on do quite a bit to help the coup government succeed. Nearly three years and hundreds of political murders later, it seems that this administration is still on the side of repression and denial of Hondurans' basic human rights.
Nothing has made this clearer than the attempts of Democratic members of the US Congress to pressure the administration to change course. On 9 March, 94 members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her "to suspend US assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces".
The members of Congress note a "pattern of human rights violations in which human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists are the subject of death threats, attacks, and extrajudicial executions". They call particular attention to the situation in the Bajo Aguan region, about 350 miles north-east of the capital, where "45 people associated with peasant organizations have been killed." This violence, which is committed by landowners' gunmen and security forces against peasants struggling for land rights, is a direct result of the coup; under the Zelaya administration, there were negotiations taking place to resolve the disputes peacefully.
The letter from members of Congress is politically striking because it is signed by close to half of all the Democrats in the House, including some in leadership positions. This is an election year, and these people are not eager to fight with their president over an issue that is not likely to be a key concern in their districts. So they must have been quite convinced that these are outrageous violations of human rights – on which our government has a responsibility to act.
But the major media in the US did not seem to notice this letter or its political significance. And there were no reports at all on a similar letter to Secretary Clinton four days earlier, from a number of US senators who expressed their concern over "credible reports of killings and violent attacks that allegedly involve police and military agents", and "the failure of [Honduran] state authorities to prosecute violators and protect the rights of victims and their families".
These omissions are even more striking as Vice-President Biden travelled to Honduras on 6 March, putting the country in the news cycle. The major media serve as enabler in this circumstance by not reporting this congressional action by so many members of President Obama's own party. The administration looks to the press and, seeing nothing, reasons that if nobody heard this big tree falling in the forest, then it didn't happen.
There has been no response so far from the State Department, other than a highly misleading statement regarding what the 94 members of Congress were asking for. Whereas the letter call for a suspension of US assistance to the Honduran military and police, as long as the killings continue with impunity, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said:
"I think the concerns that we have with this particular proposal is that it calls for a cutting of all aid to Honduras … this recommendation to cut it all off is a relatively blunt instrument."
10) Iran's Centrifuge 'Workshops' Complicate Raid Planning
Viola Gienger and Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg, March 28, 2012
Iran's "workshops" for making nuclear centrifuges and components for the devices are widely dispersed and hidden, adding to the difficulties of a potential military strike by Israel, according to a new report by U.S. congressional researchers.
Neither Israel nor the U.S. is certain of the locations of all such facilities, analysts at the Congressional Research Service wrote in the report obtained today. The analysts cited interviews with current and former U.S. government officials familiar with the issue who weren't identified.
Israel's capability to halt or set back Iran's nuclear program through a military strike has been central to the debate over whether Israel should undertake such a mission alone. While President Barack Obama has urged more time for economic sanctions to work, Israeli officials led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak say it may soon be too late to prevent Iran from developing the capability to produce a nuclear weapon.
The possibility of dispersed facilities complicates any assessment of a potential raid's success, making it "unclear what the ultimate effect of a strike would be on the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons," the report found.
A U.S. official said in April 2011 that there "could be lots of workshops' in Iran," the authors said. Last month, a former U.S. government official with "direct experience" in the issue told the researchers that "Iran's centrifuge production is widely distributed and that the number of workshops has probably multiplied 'many times' since 2005 because of an increase in Iranian contractors and subcontractors working on the program."
"An attack that left Iran's conversion and centrifuge production facilities intact would considerably reduce" the time Iran would need to resume its nuclear work, said the congressional researchers led by Jim Zanotti, a Middle Eastern affairs specialist. He wrote the report with analysts Kenneth Katzman, Jeremiah Gertler and Steven Hildreth.
Assessments vary on how much impact a military attack would have on Iran's centrifuge facilities. An executive branch official who wasn't named told the research service last month that Iran doesn't have enough spare centrifuges or components to install new devices immediately, the authors wrote. A former official said the same day that Iran probably could rebuild or replicate most centrifuge workshops within six months, the researchers said.
Centrifuge production facilities are important "because that's where the reconstitution of the program begins" after an attack, said Peter Crail, a specialist in the spread of nuclear- weapons technology at the Arms Control Association policy group in Washington.
Iran probably would kick out United Nations inspectors after a strike and may move directly to enriching uranium to weapons-grade, a step the Iranians have avoided thus far, Crail said today in an interview.
11) Iran backs Annan's Syria peace plan
Marcus George, Reuters, Wed Mar 28, 2012
Dubai - Iran backs a U.N.-sponsored peace plan for Syria that calls for the withdrawal of troops that are crushing an uprising but does not demand the removal of Tehran ally President Bashar al-Assad, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Iran backed popular uprisings that removed leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen but has steadfastly supported Syria, a rare ally in the Arab world which is largely suspicious of Tehran's ambitions for greater regional influence.
"Syria issue should be dealt with patiently," the official news agency IRNA quoted Salehi as saying, warning that "any hasty approach to the Syrian issue and the creation of a power vacuum in that country could have very damaging consequences for the region."
12) Islamist Victors in Egypt Seeking Shift by Hamas
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, March 24, 2012
Cairo - As it prepares to take power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is overhauling its relations with the two main Palestinian factions in an effort to put new pressure on Israel for an independent Palestinian state.
Officials of the Brotherhood, Egypt's dominant Islamist movement, are pressing its militant Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, which controls Gaza, to make new compromises with Fatah, the Western-backed Palestinian leadership that has committed to peace with Israel and runs the West Bank.
The intervention in the Palestinian issue is the clearest indication yet that as it moves into a position of authority, the Brotherhood, the largest vote getter in Egypt's parliamentary elections, intends to both moderate its positions on foreign policy and reconfigure Egypt's.
Brotherhood officials say that they are pulling back from their previous embrace of Hamas and its commitment to armed struggle against Israel in order to open new channels of communications with Fatah, which the Brotherhood had previously denounced for collaborating with Israel and accused of selling out the Palestinian cause. Brotherhood leaders argue that if they persuade the Palestinians to work together with a newly assertive Egypt, they will have far more success forcing Israel to bargain in earnest over the terms of statehood.
"Now we have to deal with the Palestinian parties as an umbrella for both of them, and we have to stand at an equal distance from each," said Reda Fahmy, a Brotherhood leader who oversees its Palestinian relations and is now chairman of the Arab affairs committee in Egypt's upper house of Parliament. "Any movement of the size of the Muslim Brotherhood, when it is in the opposition it is one thing and then when it comes to power it is something completely different."
The shift in the Brotherhood's stance toward neutrality between Hamas and Fatah - acknowledged by officials of both groups - may relieve United States policy makers, who have long worried about the Brotherhood's relationship with the more militant Hamas. The United States considers the Palestinian group to be a terrorist organization. But the shift in Egypt's policies may unnerve Israel, because it is a move away from former President Hosni Mubarak's exclusive support for the Western-backed Fatah movement and its commitment to the peace process.
But Mr. Fahmy said the Brotherhood believed that Palestinian unity could break the deadlock in talks with Israel. "A Palestinian negotiator will go the table and know that all the Palestinian people are supporting his project," Mr. Fahmy said.
After decades of denunciations and enmity - Brotherhood texts still sometimes refer to the Jewish state as "the Zionist entity" - Brotherhood leaders have said that as members of the governing party they will honor Egypt's 1979 peace accord with Israel. Some of its leaders say they believe that such coexistence can become a model for Hamas as well, if Israel moves toward accepting a fully independent Palestinian state.
He noted that Hamas had already made statements indicating that it would accept coexistence with Israel along its borders before the 1967 war. "It is true that it is like a person who is forced to drink poison or eat a dead animal, but they still made the statements," he said, "so we support that, provided that this state within the '67 borders is completely sovereign in air and in sea and in land."
Already, Mr. Fahmy claimed, the Brotherhood's new stance was making "a fundamental difference," including jump-starting the stalled reconciliation talks between the two Palestinian groups.
The Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohammed Badie - effectively its chairman - had personally told Hamas's top political leader, Khaled Meshaal, to be "more flexible," Mr. Fahmy said, and at recent talks in Doha, Qatar, Hamas had agreed for the first time to let Fatah's leader, Mahmoud Abbas, preside over the first six months of a unity government for the Palestinian territories until new elections could be held. "Hamas never would have accepted that Abbas heads the government," Mr. Fahmy said, "but now they are."
Moussa Abu Marzook, a senior Hamas leader who has settled in Cairo after fleeing Damascus, said that the group was full of hope about the rise of the Brotherhood, from which Hamas originally sprang 25 years ago.
His circumstances attested to those hopes. In 1995, he was arrested the United States, and spent two years fighting an Israeli extradition request and until recently was permitted to enter Egypt only under the watchful eye of its intelligence service. Now he spoke from the large and sunny salon of the second-floor office above his well-fortified suburban villa here. He acknowledged that the rise of its fellow Islamists in Egypt had set off a deep debate inside Hamas.
Some argued against any compromise with Fatah, predicting that Hamas's bargaining position would only grow stronger as its Islamist allies in Egypt took on new power. Fatah, on the other hand, had lost its primary regional sponsor, the government of Mr. Mubarak.
But Mr. Abu Marzook said that those who expected the new Egypt to back Hamas completely would be disappointed. "It's normal that the Muslim Brotherhood will be more realistic than they used to be when they weren't in power," he said.
He said he favored more conciliations with Fatah. "Reaching reconciliation is in the best interest of the Palestinian people," he said.
Fatah officials, for their part, say that so far they have been pleased with the Brotherhood's neutral approach to both factions. "The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is doing everything it can to end the Palestinian division," said Saeb Erekat, Fatah's chief negotiator.
Fatah has gone much further than both Hamas and the Brotherhood in seeking peaceful coexistence with Israel. But Mr. Erekat suggested that the differences between the parties may not be as great now as they were in the past. "The Muslim Brothers are the majority party now in Egypt; they are the masters of themselves," he said. "If they think it's in the best interest of Egypt, let them abolish the Camp David treaty. But this isn't what I heard."
13) Israel Defense Ministry plan earmarks 10 percent of West Bank for settlement expansion
Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, 30.03.12
Newly released maps indicate Civil Administration secretly setting aside additional land for Jewish settlements, presumably with the intention of expanding them.
For years Israel's Civil Administration has been covertly locating and mapping available land in the West Bank and naming the parcels after existing Jewish settlements, presumably with an eye toward expanding these communities.
The Civil Administration, part of the Defense Ministry, released its maps only in response to a request from anti-settlement activist Dror Etkes under the Freedom of Information Law.
In some places the boundaries of the parcels outlined in the maps coincide with the route of the West Bank separation barrier.
The state has argued before the Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the route of the separation barrier was based on Israel's security needs. But Civil Administration's maps and figures, disclosed here for the first time, suggest the barrier route was planned in accordance with the available land in the West Bank, intended to increase the area and population of the settlements.
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