JFP 4/9: AFL, Amnesty, HRW press Obama for release of Bahrain hunger striker

Just Foreign Policy News, April 9, 2012
AFL, Amnesty, HRW press Obama for release of Bahrain hunger striker


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Want the U.S. to pursue real diplomacy? Ask your Rep to back the Barbara Lee bill
H.R.4173, the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act, would lift the State Department's "no contact" policy with Iran. The bill has 21 co-sponsors. Ask your Representative to join them.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/hr4173

AFL-CIO, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch call on Obama to press for release of Bahrain hunger striker
"We write to urge you to publicly call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release from prison Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. Al-Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights defender and democracy activist who may soon die, as he has been on a hunger strike for more than two months."
http://pomed.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Al-Khawaja-Letter3.pdf

Rebecca Griffin: Give U.S.-Iran negotiations time to succeed
As the U.S. and its allies engage in delicate negotiations, the Graham/Lieberman resolution to lower the threshold for war could rule out diplomatic alternatives and back the U.S. into a corner. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, warned, "This resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war, and could be the precursor for a war with Iran. ... It's effectively a thinly disguised effort to bless war."
http://www.sacbee.com/2012/04/09/4400461/give-us-iran-negotiations-time.html

Is there a store in your town that sells Ahava cosmetics?
Did you know that Ahava cosmetics are under boycott because their main manufacturing facility is in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank? Do your friends and neighbors know that Ahava cosmetics is under boycott?
Here's how to find a store near you that may be selling these boycotted products:
http://www.ahavaus.com/store-locations/
Here's background on the campaign:
http://stolenbeauty.org/

Rick Steves: I've been duped by the media on Israel/Palestine
The popular travel writer says the documentary "Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land" opened his eyes to how his understanding of the struggles in the Middle East has been skewed by most of our mainstream media.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-steves/reflections-on-israel-and_b_1401220.html

George Masters: Support our troops? Then bring them home.
A combat veteran asks Americans to swap their "support our troops" stickers for calls to bring our troops out of the line of fire.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/support-our-troops-then-bring-them-home/2012/04/06/gIQACyNb0S_story.html

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.
https://codepink.salsalabs.com/o/424/donate_page/dronesummit

II) Summary:

U.S./Top News
1) U.S. and European diplomats say the U.S. and Europe plan to open talks with Iran by demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of the Fordow facility, the New York Times reports. They are also calling for a halt in 20% enrichment, and the transfer of 20% enriched uranium out of Iran, the NYT says. The NYT calls this the West's "opening bid," and notes that "opening bids in international negotiations are often designed to set a high bar." But as a political matter U.S. and European officials say they cannot imagine agreeing to any outcome that leaves Iran with a stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, which "could be converted to bomb grade in a matter of months."

If Iran rejects U.S. and European demands to immediately halt the most dangerous elements of its program [presumably, this means at least freezing 20% enrichment, or otherwise stopping the 20% stockpile from growing - JFP], Obama could face a crisis in the Persian Gulf by early summer in the midst of his re-election bid, the NYT says.

[One positive note: stopping all enrichment of uranium in Iran seems to have almost completely dropped out of discussion - JFP.]

2) The U.S. agreed Sunday to hand control of special operations missions to Afghan forces, including night raids, the New York Times reports. The deal requires an Afghan court warrant within 72 hours of a raid; a warrant can be issued after a raid only in cases where the intelligence needed to be acted on immediately. The agreement covers all night raids carried out by special operations forces; a small number of night operations are conducted under other auspices.

Public outrage over the night raids has focused not only on civilian deaths but also on the invasion by foreign soldiers of private homes, in particular those where women and children are living, the NYT notes. On that count, the agreement is a significant victory for Karzai, because he has long argued that the sense of outrage and violation was a pressing reason for an Afghan takeover of the raids, the NYT says.

3) Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu have an unusually close relationship, the New York Times reports. Romney has suggested he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Netanyahu - a level of deference that could raise eyebrows given Netanyahu's polarizing reputation, even as it appeals to the neoconservatives and evangelical Christians who are fiercely protective of Israel, the NYT says.

In December, Romney criticized Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: "Before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: 'Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?' " Martin Indyk, a US ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, said Romney's statement implied that he would "subcontract Middle East policy to Israel."

4) The Summit of the Americas will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found, the Guardian reports. Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition.

5) Oil prices fell more than $1 on Monday after Iran agreed to resume talks over its nuclear program, easing fears of a supply disruption in the Middle East, Reuters reports. "If there are some good vibrations from the Iranian talks and they don't immediately break down, the markets will have hopes that the European Union may lighten the sanctions on Iran, at least on the insurance front," said Olivier Jakob from Petromatrix.

6) House Republicans led by Paul Ryan have introduced a budget that both lavishly funds the Pentagon and slashes domestic programs, writes Jeff Blum of USAction in the Baltimore Sun. The Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) is now slated to cost the American taxpayer $1.5 trillion. Meanwhile, public education, infrastructure development, commitments to research and development and a secure safety net go starved for funding. This is the trade-off of the Ryan Republican budget proposal.

Syria
7) Although the Obama administration still hopes to avoid military intervention in Syria and is publicly backing a U.N. effort to broker a cease-fire, it has also stepped deliberately onto a slippery slope that is likely to lead to more intervention, writes Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. Eventually, the question of military intervention will change from if to when, McManus says. The U.S. is already a little bit pregnant - already committed to helping Assad fall, McManus argues. It's merely looking for the least violent, lowest cost way to get there, he says.

[A similar argument was made in the case of the Libya intervention, especially by the McCain/Lieberman/Graham crowd: because the US had said that the Libyan government had to go, therefore the US was committed to intervene militarily. It would be a good thing for more people to understand: when the US says that the government of an adversary country is "illegitimate" or "has to go," this will be interpreted as a US obligation to intervene militarily. Therefore, people who oppose US military intervention in other countries' internal conflicts should also oppose the US running around saying that the governments of adversary countries are "illegitimate" or "have to go" - JFP.]

Afghanistan
8) A top Afghan diplomat says that support is building among Afghanistan's regional neighbors for a comprehensive peace process with the Taliban, Reuters reports. Jawed Ludin, the deputy foreign minister and senior negotiator in talks with Washington on an Afghan-U.S. strategic pact, said he was confident an agreement would soon be signed with Qatar to open a Taliban representative office in Qatar as a vehicle for talks. Ludin said the government had made clear it was interested in a political solution with the Taliban and denied strategic partnership talks with the U.S. were inconsistent with Islamist demands for foreign troops to leave the country.

Iran
9) In a signal that Iran is willing to negotiate over its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoon Abbasi, said Sunday Iran was considering a stop to the activity and lowing the enrichment levels, the Washington Post reports. "We do not produce more 20 percent fuel than we need," Abbasi said. He said it was easy to change the centrifuges now enriching uranium up to 20 percent and use them for making nuclear fuel up to 3.5 percent enriched.

Closing down the Fordow enrichment site is "out of the question," said Hossein Sheikholeslami, a key adviser to Iran's former top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Iran has said that it built the facility to protect its nuclear technology from attack by Israel or the US. But Iran might be willing to talk about its stockpile of the higher-enriched uranium, he said.

10) Iran's nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, said Iran could eventually stop its production of the 20 percent enriched uranium needed for a research reactor, AP reports. But Iran would continue enriching uranium to lower levels of about 3.5 percent for power generation, he said. But Abbasi snubbed a demand that Iran's stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium be transferred out of the country. Abbasi indicated that it would remain in Iran.

11) U.S. officials said expanded intelligence collection has reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb, the Washington Post reports. "There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made," said a senior U.S. official.

White House officials contend that Iran's leaders have not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and they say it would take Iran at least a year to do so if it were to launch a crash program now. "Even in the absolute worst case - six months - there is time for the president to have options," said a senior U.S. official.

The expanded U.S. espionage effort has confirmed the consensus view expressed by the U.S. intelligence community in a 2007 estimate, the Post says. That estimate concluded that while Iran remains committed to assembling key building blocks for a nuclear weapons program, particularly enriched uranium, the nation's leaders have opted for now against taking the crucial final step: designing a nuclear warhead. "It isn't the absence of evidence, it's the evidence of an absence," said one former intelligence official briefed on the findings. "Certain things are not being done."

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) U.S. Defines Its Demands for New Round of Talks With Iran
David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger, New York Times, April 7, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/world/middleeast/us-defines-its-demands-for-new-round-of-talks-with-iran.html

Washington - The Obama administration and its European allies plan to open new negotiations with Iran by demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of a recently completed nuclear facility deep under a mountain, according to American and European diplomats.

They are also calling for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country, the diplomats said.

That negotiating position will be the opening move in what President Obama has called Iran's "last chance" to resolve its nuclear confrontation with the United Nations and the West diplomatically. The hard-line approach would require the country's military leadership to give up the Fordo enrichment plant outside the holy city of Qum, and with it a huge investment in the one facility that is most hardened against airstrikes.

While it is unclear whether the allies would accept anything less than closing and disassembling Fordo, government and outside experts say the terms may be especially difficult for Iran's leaders to accept when they need to appear strong in the face of political infighting.

Still, Mr. Obama and his allies are gambling that crushing sanctions and the threat of Israeli military action will bolster the arguments of those Iranians who say a negotiated settlement is far preferable to isolation and more financial hardship. Other experts fear the tough conditions being set could instead swing the debate in favor of Iran's hard-liners.

"We have no idea how the Iranians will react," one senior administration official said. "We probably won't know after the first meeting." But the next round of oil sanctions, he noted, kicks in early this summer.
[...]
While opening bids in international negotiations are often designed to set a high bar, as a political matter American and European officials say they cannot imagine agreeing to any outcome that leaves Iran with a stockpile of fuel, enriched to 20 percent purity, that could be converted to bomb grade in a matter of months.

The outcome of the talks - or their breakdown - could well determine whether Washington will be able to quiet Israeli threats that it could take military action this year. But talking with Iran's leaders also carries considerable political risk for Mr. Obama, with Iran emerging as one of the few major foreign policy issues in the presidential campaign.

If Iran rejects American and European demands to immediately halt the most dangerous elements of its program, Mr. Obama could face a crisis in the Persian Gulf by early summer in the midst of his re-election bid.
[...]
In interviews, administration officials said their "urgent priority" was to get Iran to give up - and ship out of the country - its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, and to get Tehran to close Fordo. Dismantlement, they said, would come in a second stage. So far Iran has produced only about 100 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium - less than it would need to produce a single nuclear weapon - but it has announced plans to increase production sharply in coming months.

It is unclear whether that is possible: sanctions, embargos on crucial parts and Western sabotage have all delayed the program. But because that fuel could be so quickly converted to highly enriched uranium for a bomb, the American and European strategy is to eliminate that stockpile, leaving time to negotiate on the fate of lower-enriched uranium.

Uranium enriched to about 5 percent does not pose as imminent a risk, but the United Nations Security Council has required that Iran halt all enrichment.
[...]
"What we are looking for is a way to acknowledge Iran's right to enrich, but only at levels that would give us plenty of warning if they moved toward a weapon," one European diplomat familiar with the internal debates said.
[...]

2) U.S. Transfers Control of Night Raids to Afghanistan
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, April 8, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/09/world/asia/deal-reached-on-controversial-afghan-night-raids.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - Accelerating the transition of military responsibility to the Afghan government, the United States agreed Sunday to hand control of special operations missions to Afghan forces, including night raids, relegating American troops to a supporting role and bringing the raids under Afghan judicial authority.

The deal clears the way for the two countries to move ahead with a more comprehensive partnership agreement that will establish the shape of American support to Afghanistan after the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline. And it resolves one of the most contentious issues for President Hamid Karzai, who faced intense domestic political pressure because of night raids' deep unpopularity here, even as American commanders had insisted they were the linchpin of the military mission in Afghanistan.

As recently as a year ago, American commanders expressed reservations about giving up nearly any measure of control over the raids. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has been reconfigured by a series of diplomatic crises and the American public's growing fatigue for the war, lending an increasing sense of imminence to the troop withdrawal.

At the same time, the United States has mounted an intense effort to move Afghan special operations forces to the fore, even as questions remain about the overall readiness of Afghan troops.
[...]
The memorandum of understanding signed on Sunday gives Afghan forces the lead role in night raid operations against suspected insurgents, and also requires an Afghan court warrant within 72 hours of a raid. A warrant can be issued after a raid only in cases where the intelligence needed to be acted on immediately, otherwise it must be executed in advance, according to Afghan officials.

Under the terms of the agreement, Afghan forces can still call on American troops for help and authorize them to enter Afghan residences and private compounds. The agreement covers all night raids carried out by special operations forces. However, a small number of night operations are conducted under other auspices, including special C.I.A.-trained units, that are not covered by the agreement, military and civilian officials said.

American officials close to the negotiations said that under the agreement, an interministry Afghan command center with representatives of the Defense and Interior Ministries, as well as the National Directorate of Security - the Afghan intelligence agency - would review or develop information about potential targets in consultation with Americans, who would continue to provide extensive intelligence support.

The interministry group would then decide whether to go after a target and send Afghan special operations forces to carry out the raid. The Afghans can request American assistance at any point in the operation - for intelligence, for backup military support, air support, medical evacuation and post-operation intelligence gathering.

Afghan officials said that the Americans would not have the right to question detainees. Currently, they can question detainees and hold them indefinitely without trial. In practice, however, Americans might well be called on "to assist in an investigation," said a United States official. The official emphasized that the relationship between Afghan and American troops was "not an adversarial one," and United States officials did not appear to be worried that Americans would be denied access to detainees.

Several diplomats said that the most important aspect of the agreement, which goes into effect immediately, was that the two countries could take the next steps to complete the transition to Afghan control and allow foreign forces to leave the country.
[...]
While the deal underscores the continuing diminution of American power here, the fact is that the United States and other allied countries still pay nearly all of the costs of Afghan security forces. That means the West will retain considerable leverage for some time to come, officials here said.

"The Americans are not giving up a huge amount," one Western official said. "And if they are paying $4.1 billion a year for the Afghan military, if they want permission to question someone, I think they'll get it," the official added, referring to the approximate amount Western countries are expected to agree to contribute annually to cover Afghan security costs after 2014.

Still, an American military official involved in the negotiations described the agreement as "a paradigm shift" that substantially changed who was in charge, although the official emphasized that Afghan and American officers worked as a team, sitting side by side in an operations center, sharing intelligence and decision-making responsibilities on most targets.

In recent testimony before Congress, General Allen repeatedly assured lawmakers that an agreement would not weaken the pressure on important terrorist and insurgent leaders who have been the target of the raids. Providing new details, he said that Afghan forces took part in most of the 2,200 night operations last year, and, in practice, led many of them. He also said that civilian casualties occurred in less than 1.5 percent of the missions.

But public outrage has focused not only on civilian deaths but also on the invasion by foreign soldiers of private homes, in particular those where women and children are living. On that count, the agreement is a significant victory for Mr. Karzai, because he has long argued that the sense of outrage and violation was a pressing reason for an Afghan takeover of the raids.

With this agreement and the one reached on March 9 that laid out a six-month timetable for handing over detention operations to the Afghans, the strategic partnership agreement between the United States and Afghanistan can now go forward.

The two governments were to spend the next several weeks completing the partnership document, which would commit the United States to a 10-year involvement in Afghanistan that includes support of an array of civilian efforts including economic development and education. The Afghans and the Americans have wanted to have that agreement in place before a two-day NATO meeting in Chicago that is scheduled to start on May 20.
[...]

3) A Friendship Dating to 1976 Resonates in 2012
Michael Barbaro, New York Times, April 7, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/politics/mitt-romney-and-benjamin-netanyahu-are-old-friends.html

The two young men had woefully little in common: one was a wealthy Mormon from Michigan, the other a middle-class Jew from Israel.

But in 1976, the lives of Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu intersected, briefly but indelibly, in the 16th-floor offices of the Boston Consulting Group, where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. At the most formative time of their careers, they sized each other up during the firm's weekly brainstorming sessions, absorbing the same profoundly analytical view of the world.

That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue. Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is making the case for military action against Iran as Mr. Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is attacking the Obama administration for not supporting Mr. Netanyahu more robustly.

The relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Romney - nurtured over meals in Boston, New York and Jerusalem, strengthened by a network of mutual friends and heightened by their conservative ideologies - has resulted in an unusually frank exchange of advice and insights on topics like politics, economics and the Middle East.
[...]
Only a few weeks ago, on Super Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a personal briefing by telephone to Mr. Romney about the situation in Iran. "We can almost speak in shorthand," Mr. Romney said in an interview. "We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar."
[...]
The ties between Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu stand out because there is little precedent for two politicians of their stature to have such a history together that predates their entry into government. And that history could well influence decision-making at a time when the United States may face crucial questions about whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities or support Israel in such an action.

Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu - a level of deference that could raise eyebrows given Mr. Netanyahu's polarizing reputation, even as it appeals to the neoconservatives and evangelical Christians who are fiercely protective of Israel.

In a telling exchange during a debate in December, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: "Before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: 'Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?' "

Martin S. Indyk, a United States ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, said that whether intentional or not, Mr. Romney's statement implied that he would "subcontract Middle East policy to Israel."

"That, of course, would be inappropriate," he added.

Mr. Netanyahu insists that he is neutral in the presidential election, but he has at best a fraught relationship with President Obama. For years, the prime minister has skillfully mobilized many Jewish groups and Congressional Republicans to pressure the Obama administration into taking a more confrontational approach against Iran.

"To the extent that their personal relationship would give Netanyahu entree to the Romney White House in a way that he doesn't now have to the Obama White House," Mr. Indyk said, "the prime minister would certainly consider that to be a significant advantage."
[...]

4) 'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders
Watershed summit will admit that prohibition has failed, and call for more nuanced and liberalised tactics
Jamie Doward, Guardian, Saturday 7 April 2012 16.51 EDT
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/07/war-drugs-latin-american-leaders

A historic meeting of Latin America's leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.

The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favour of a more nuanced and liberalised approach.

Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country's military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: "The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated."

Pérez Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic. "To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?"

He insists, however, that prohibition has failed and an alternative system must be found. "Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions."
[...]
One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. "This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes," he said.

Latin America's increasing hostility towards prohibition makes Obama's attendance at the summit potentially difficult. The Obama administration, keen not to hand ammunition to its opponents during an election year, will not want to be seen as softening its support for prohibition. However, it is seen as significant that the US vice-president, Joe Biden, has acknowledged that the debate about legalising drugs is now legitimate.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the global commission on drug policy, has said it is time for "an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies", a view shared by George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, and former president Jimmy Carter.

5) Oil falls on Iran talks, US jobs data
* Iran nuclear talks to be held in Istanbul
* U.S., allies want end to high-level enrichment
Dmitry Zhdannikov, Reuters, Mon Apr 9, 2012 7:26am EDT
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/09/markets-oil-idUSL3E8F80F20120409

London - Oil prices fell more than $1 on Monday after Iran agreed to resume talks over its nuclear programme, easing fears of a supply disruption in the Middle East.

Prices were also under pressure on concerns about the pace of U.S. economic recovery after data last week showed U.S. employers had hired far fewer workers in March than in previous months. Job growth in the world's biggest oil consumer slowed to 120,000, the smallest increase since October.

Brent crude was down $1.19 a barrel to $122.24 by 1110 GMT after slipping below $122 earlier in the day. U.S. oil traded $1.46 a barrel lower at $101.85.

"If there are some good vibrations from the Iranian talks and they don't immediately break down, the markets will have hopes that the European Union may lighten the sanctions on Iran, at least on the insurance front," said Olivier Jakob from Petromatrix.

"At the moment, the sanctions are having a much stronger impact than anticipated, mostly through insurance, which could lead to a full interruption of Iranian oil flows," he added.

Iranian media and Western officials said talks over Tehran's nuclear programme, which collapsed more than a year ago, would begin on Saturday in Istanbul.
[...]
Worries that the stand-off between Tehran and the West would escalate and disrupt oil exports from the Middle East have boosted Brent prices by nearly $20 so far this year to a high of $128.40 touched last month.

"The talks are good news. They are going to ease some stress from the oil market but not enough to bring oil below its current trading range," said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity derivatives manager at Newedge Brokerage in Tokyo.
[...]

6) Blank check for the military will send America the way of the Soviet Union
Blank check for the military will send America the way of the Soviet Union
In an arms race with itself, the U.S. squeezes out domestic investments in favor of more weapons
Jeff Blum, Baltimore Sun, 6:00 a.m. EDT, April 9, 2012
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-military-spending-20120409,0,847499.story

[Blum is executive director of USAction.]

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many strategists suggested that the Cold War arms race had bankrupted its economy and caused its downfall. More than 20 years later, it appears that some in Washington are driving the U.S. toward a similar fate.

Most recently, House Republicans (led by Rep. Paul Ryan) introduced a budget that both lavishly funds the Pentagon and slashes domestic programs. Mr. Ryan has even questioned whether generals were being honest in their assessment of the president's budget, suggesting, "We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice." House Republicans seem to be ignoring the advice of our military leaders and are seeking to fund the Pentagon beyond what it requires or has requested.

For example, the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) is now slated to cost the American taxpayer $1.5 trillion, with about a trillion attributable to its expensive maintenance costs. This is a perfect example of wasteful programs: the F-35 is becoming too expensive to bother flying in the first place. Instead of delaying contracts, it's time for elected officials to pull the plug.

Meanwhile, the foundations of a strong economy - public education, infrastructure development, commitments to research and development and a secure safety net that protects our most vulnerable citizens from poverty - go starved for funding. This is the trade-off of the Ryan Republican budget proposal.
[...]
Meanwhile, the United States is in an arms race with itself. No other country can compete with the size of our military budgets, the lethality of our weapons or the global reach of our armed services.

We dominate a vacuum of power. The Air Force's only rival in the air is the U.S. Navy, owner of the world's second-largest air force. On the seas, the Navy is unrivaled but continues to add ships to the fleet. In this vacuum, members of Congress challenge each service to outspend each other, far beyond what is feasible for true national security.
[...]
Meanwhile, we maintain a vast and redundant nuclear arsenal that brings very little national security benefit and is more relevant to the Cold War than any 21st century threats. Instead of escalating our own nuclear arsenal, we should be dedicated to preventing rogue states and terrorist organizations from acquiring nuclear materials.

Lobbyists and private contractors profit from this arms race. Hugely expensive projects like nuclear submarines and a new generation of bomber contribute more to defending the bottom line of major contractors than they do to defending America. Our government now employs more defense contractors than members of the military, at a greater cost to the American citizen. It is time to move away from a self-perpetuating procurement process that counts national security in dollars - not sense.

Runaway Pentagon spending exacts a very high price on our economy. It is no exaggeration to say that excessive military spending is starving state and city budgets, costing us millions of jobs and perpetuating the recession for many Americans. Dollar for dollar, money invested in weapons produces fewer jobs than money invested in education, green jobs, or a myriad of other industries, according to a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

If our leaders in Washington want to strengthen our security, they should enact smart cuts in the U.S. military budget and reallocate those funds to the most fundamental source of our strength: our economy.
[...]

Syria
7) A ticking clock on Syria
Intervention is likely, and the United States won't wait as long as it did in Bosnia.
Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2012
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-mcmanus-column-syria-20120408,0,1307320.column

[...]
Although the Obama administration still hopes to avoid military intervention in Syria and is publicly backing a U.N. effort to broker a cease-fire this week, it has also stepped deliberately onto a slippery slope that is likely to lead to more intervention.

Unlike with Bosnia, where the United States and its allies initially sought to be neutral in a civil war, this time the U.S. has already chosen a side: It has called on Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, to step down, and it has embraced the opposition Syrian National Council.

At a meeting in Istanbul last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced an escalation of U.S. aid to the opposition. In public, she pointed to a doubling of medical and other humanitarian aid, plus the provision of communication equipment. Less publicly, officials confirmed that the new package also includes "non-lethal" help that will go to the Free Syrian Army, the newly formed opposition armed forces, including night-vision goggles and U.S. intelligence information such as early warnings of Syrian troop movements.

And while the United States has decided not to provide weapons to the rebels, it isn't objecting to military funding or arms shipments from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab states that would like to see Assad fall.

In the short term, the administration says it still hopes former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan can arrange a cease-fire, and that Assad will - improbably - decide to step down.

But I couldn't find anyone in the administration last week who believed that outcome was likely. For one thing, Assad believes he's winning; there's no reason for him to surrender now. The best hope seems to be that the government crackdown will become less lethal.

If the pace of the killing slows, that could buy time: time for economic sanctions to undermine the regime, time to cajole Russia to switch sides and help pull the rug out from Assad, but also time for the opposition and its new army to organize themselves into a more effective force.

If those measures fail to bring Assad down, the administration appears divided on how quickly to move toward military intervention. The Pentagon is reluctant to get involved in another war, as the Pentagon usually is. Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, has also weighed in against any post-Libya temptation to "militarize" another problem. Clinton's State Department has sounded the most hawkish notes - in part, perhaps, because it's Clinton who has delivered most of the administration's public declarations that Assad must go.

But even the administration's humanitarian hawks don't think the moment for U.S. or NATO military intervention has arrived yet.

They'd like the U.N. Security Council to give its blessing first, or - if Russia and China continue to resist - at least NATO. They'd like the Syrian opposition to be better organized, with more assurance that military aid wouldn't fall into the hands of radical Islamists. They'd like Turkey to establish safe havens for the opposition along its border with Syria.

Eventually, though, the question of military intervention will change from if to when. The United States is already a little bit pregnant - already committed to helping Assad fall. It's merely looking for the least violent, lowest cost way to get there.
[...]

Afghanistan
8) Support for peace talks growing, Afghan diplomat says
Rob Taylor, Reuters, 1:22 AM CDT, April 8, 2012
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-afghanistan-reconciliationbre83701z-20120407,0,5991269.story

Kabul - Support is building among Afghanistan's regional neighbors for a comprehensive peace process with the Taliban, but Pakistan's backing and access to insurgent leaders are crucial to getting stalled talks on track, a top Afghan diplomat said.

Jawed Ludin, the deputy foreign minister and senior negotiator in talks with Washington on an Afghan-U.S. strategic pact, also said the two allies were near agreement on a deal to curb controversial night raids by NATO troops on Afghan homes.
[...]
Ludin, a former chief of staff and spokesman for Karzai, said he was confident an agreement would soon be signed with Qatar to open a Taliban representative office in the Gulf state as a vehicle for talks, about which he was "positive".

Ludin said he also held strong hopes that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia's governments would weigh in to give political momentum to Afghan government efforts to engage the Taliban.
[...]
"There are a number of elements and we all know what those are. The question of access, the question of providing a conducive environment for contacts to be established and for talks to take place wherever they are," Ludin said.

"We need to bring about an environment where leadership of the Taliban can viably use that office to engage with Afghanistan, with the government of Afghanistan, in constructive forward-looking talks about the peace process and about taking this step forward."
[...]
Ludin said the government had made clear it was interested in a political solution with the Taliban and denied strategic partnership talks with the U.S. and other nations were inconsistent with Islamist demands for foreign troops and advisers to leave the country, and for Islamic-focused reform.

Iran
9) Iran nuclear talks set for this week
Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, April 8
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/iran-nuclear-talks-set-for-this-week/2012/04/08/gIQALaSI4S_story.html

Tehran - Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, are slated to begin Friday in Istanbul, Iranian state media said Sunday.

Iran's official English-language Press TV quoted an unnamed official at the Supreme National Security Council, which handles the country's nuclear program, as setting the date and place of the talks. Reuters quoted a spokeswoman for the European Union foreign policy chief confirming that the talks would take place this week in Istanbul.
[...]
The six nations are expected to press Iran to accept curbs on its nuclear program that would make it far more difficult for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon. A key demand, Western diplomats say, is that Iran halt production at its uranium-enrichment plant near Qom, a ­Shiite holy city about 90 miles south of Tehran, which was built in mountain tunnels beyond the reach of all but the most advanced bombs and missiles. The United States also expects Iran to fully suspend production of 20 percent enriched uranium, which Iran says it needs to power a 43-year-old U.S.-built nuclear test reactor that produces radio isotopes.

In a signal that Iran is willing to negotiate over its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoon Abbasi, said Sunday that his country was considering a stop to the activity and lowing the enrichment levels.

"We do not produce more 20 percent fuel than we need," Abbasi told the Iranian Students' News Agency. He said it was easy to change the centrifuges now enriching uranium up to 20 percent and use them for making nuclear fuel up to 3.5 percent enriched. "Our systems are capable of making this change," Abbasi said.

The Western request to close the facility near Qom, called Fordow, is "not logical," Abbasi said, stressing that the mountain bunker was no different from Iran's main nuclear facility at Natanz. He also said that Iran's only semi-operating nuclear reactor, in the town of Bushehr, was running on fuel provided by Russia.

Last month, some prominent Iranian elected officials and analysts - many of them close to the country's hard-line leadership - said it was highly unlikely that Iran would accept even a temporary halt in its production of enriched uranium. They said recent economic sanctions and military threats against the country have made Iranian leaders even more determined to continue enriching uranium, despite the worsening toll on Iran's currency and oil industry.

"Please do not make the general public expect any freeze on the enrichment of uranium," said Hossein Sheikholeslami, a former Iranian ambassador to Syria who was once a leader of the student movement that took 52 U.S. Embassy workers hostage in 1979. "We regard this as our inalienable right."

The enrichment facility near Qom houses Iran's fallback nuclear energy program: a series of centrifuges hidden deep inside a mountain bunker. Iran has said that it built the facility to protect its nuclear technology from attack by Israel or the United States. "Closing down that site is out of the question," said Sheikholeslami, who is a key adviser to Iran's former top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

But Iran might be willing to talk about its stockpile of the higher-grade uranium, he said. Iranian officials say they were forced to enrich the uranium to a higher level in order to keep their U.S.-built reactor running after Western powers refused to deliver new batches of fuel in 2009.

"I don't think we can trust the West for now giving us that fuel, but Iran's negotiating team might be willing to debate this option," Sheikholeslami said.

10) Iran's nuclear chief floats compromise on enrichment issue ahead of talks with world powers
Associated Press, Monday, April 9, 2:10 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/irans-nuclear-chief-floats-compromise-on-enrichment-issue-ahead-of-talks-with-world-powers/2012/04/09/gIQAcyJP5S_story.html

Tehran, Iran - Iran is signaling a possible compromise offer heading into critical talks with world powers deeply suspicious of its nuclear program: offering to scale back uranium enrichment but not abandon the ability to make nuclear fuel.
[...]
Despite far-reaching complexities, the dispute effectively boils down to one issue: Iran's stated refusal to close down its uranium enrichment labs.

For Iran, uranium enrichment is a proud symbol of its scientific advances and technological self-sufficiency. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called the nuclear program on Sunday "a locomotive" for other showcase projects such as Iran's space effort.

The U.S. and its allies contend that the same sites that make fuel for reactors could also eventually churn out weapons-grade material. Iran has repeatedly insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

The ideas put forth late Sunday by the nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, are an attempt to at least acknowledge this huge divide.

Abbasi said Tehran could eventually stop its production of the 20 percent enriched uranium needed for a research reactor, used for medical research and treatments. But, he added, Iran would continue enriching uranium to lower levels of about 3.5 percent for power generation.

The framework addresses one key Western concern. The U.S. and others worry the higher-enriched uranium could be turned into warhead strength - more than 90 percent enriched - in a matter of months.

Yet Abbasi also directly snubbed a demand backed by the U.S. and some other countries. They want Iran's stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium to be transferred out of the country. Abbasi indicated that it would remain in Iran.
[...]
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was up to Iran to show that its claim of rejecting nuclear weapons is "not an abstract belief but it is a government policy."

"And that government policy can be demonstrated in a number of ways, by ending the enrichment of highly enriched uranium to 20 percent, by shipping out such highly enriched uranium out of the country, by opening up to constant inspections and verifications," she said at a conference in Istanbul to seek ways to aid opposition forces in Syria - Iran's main Arab ally.

Clinton will not be attending Friday's conference on Iran. The State Department's third-ranking diplomat, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, will lead the U.S. delegation. The Iranians have not yet announced whom they will be sending to Istanbul.

Abbasi also insisted that Iran will never close down its new underground enrichment facilities south of Tehran, saying it would be "illogical" for the West to raise such a demand.

It's unclear, however, whether Abbasi was conveying a real negotiating position or simply testing the waters.

The proposal came from an unconventional venue, airing just before midnight on a state-run TV channel for Iranians and other Farsi-speakers abroad. Iran has used its array of government-controlled media, such as its Arabic-language Al-Alam channel, to make regional and international policy statements.

Abbasi said production of uranium enriched up to 20 percent is not part of the nation's long-term program - beyond amounts needed for its research reactor in Tehran - and insisted that Iran "doesn't need" to enrich beyond the 20 percent levels.

"The job is being carried out based on need," he said. "When the need is met, we will decrease production and it is even possible to completely reverse to only 3.5 percent" enrichment levels.
[...]

11) U.S. intelligence gains in Iran seen as boost to confidence
Joby Warrick and Greg Miller, Washington Post, April 7
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-sees-intelligence-surge-as-boost-to-confidence/2012/04/07/gIQAlCha2S_story.html

More than three years ago, the CIA dispatched a stealth surveillance drone into the skies over Iran.

The bat-winged aircraft penetrated more than 600 miles inside the country, captured images of Iran's secret nuclear facility at Qom and then flew home. All the while, analysts at the CIA and other agencies watched carefully for any sign that the craft, dubbed the RQ-170 Sentinel, had been detected by Tehran's air defenses on its maiden voyage.

"There was never even a ripple," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official involved in the previously undisclosed mission.

CIA stealth drones scoured dozens of sites throughout Iran, making hundreds of passes over suspicious facilities, before a version of the RQ-170 crashed inside Iran's borders in December. The surveillance has been part of what current and former U.S. officials describe as an intelligence surge that is aimed at Iran's nuclear program and that has been gaining momentum since the final years of George W. Bush's administration.

The effort has included ramped-up eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, formation of an Iran task force among satellite-imagery analysts and an expanded network of spies, current and former U.S. officials said.

At a time of renewed debate over whether stopping Iran might require military strikes, the expanded intelligence collection has reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb, officials said.

"There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made," said a senior U.S. official involved in high-level discussions about Iran policy. "Across the board, our access has been significantly improved."
[...]
The Obama administration has cited new intelligence reports in arguing against a preemptive military strike by Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities.
[...]
White House officials contend that Iran's leaders have not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and they say it would take Iran at least a year to do so if it were to launch a crash program now.

"Even in the absolute worst case - six months - there is time for the president to have options," said the senior U.S. official, one of seven current or former advisers on security policy who agreed to discuss U.S. options on Iran on the condition of anonymity.
[...]
The expanded espionage effort has confirmed the consensus view expressed by the U.S. intelligence community in a controversial estimate released publicly in 2007. That estimate concluded that while Iran remains resolutely committed to assembling key building blocks for a nuclear weapons program, particularly enriched uranium, the nation's leaders have opted for now against taking the crucial final step: designing a nuclear warhead.

"It isn't the absence of evidence, it's the evidence of an absence," said one former intelligence official briefed on the findings. "Certain things are not being done."

-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews



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