JFP 4/16: U.S., Iran agree to formal talks; Kim selection as WBPres "historic"
Just Foreign Policy News, April 16, 2012
U.S., Iran agree to formal talks; Kim's selection as WBPres "historic"
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* Action: Urge Obama to speak up to protect human rights defenders in Bahrain
Fourteen Bahrainis are in prison for supporting peaceful protests for democracy. One is on hunger strike and near death. Urge President Obama to speak up.
Israeli legal expert Talia Sasson: settlement enterprise is destroying Israel
Lawyer Talia Sasson, who worked in the Israeli State's Attorney's office for 25 years and wrote a report on settlements in the West Bank at the direction of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, says: "... as it is today: two peoples with two separate legal systems; law that applies to the Palestinians doesn't apply to the Israelis, and law that applies to the Israelis doesn't apply to the Palestinians. One people has rights and democracy and laws that protect it and a Supreme Court that protects it, and an army that protects it and a state that protects it. And the other people has nothing – it has no rights, no political rights, no control of the territory in which it lives. The A, B, C of democracy. It doesn't have it."
Public Citizen: Statement in Response to Obama's Labor Certification and Decision to Implement Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
"Given the number of unionists murdered in Colombia has increased every year since the trade deal was signed and the same labor violations that led candidate Obama to oppose the deal remain it is obscene that he has certified that conditions have improved and thus the trade deal is ready to go into effect. Since 1986 nearly 3,000 union activists have been killed in the country, the rate jumped to 48 last year."
Barney Frank on the Ryan Budget
It's not deficit reduction to cut Medicare and Medicaid so you can increase military spending.
1) The announcement that Jim Yong Kim will be the next president of the World Bank is positive news for people living in poverty or struggling with illness, CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said. Weisbrot noted that "Kim fought tenaciously at the WHO to get treatment for 3 million people for HIV/AIDS. This is the kind of leadership that will be needed at the Bank."
2) The US and five other major powers agreed Saturday to sit down with Iran in six weeks for formal talks aimed at ensuring that its nuclear program will not lead to nuclear weapons, McClatchy reports. The talks will take place May 23 in Baghdad. U.S. and European diplomats said the plan is to map out a step-by-step procedure to address concerns over Iran's expansion of its uranium stockpile. They stressed that any actions to ease international sanctions against Iran would be reciprocal and based on concrete steps by Iran.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's chief foreign policy official and spokesman for the six powers, called the talks on Saturday, which ran for a good 12 hours, "constructive and useful."
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has demanded that the international community deny Iran the right to enrich uranium, but President Obama has refused to take that step, McClatchy notes. Turkish diplomats said any such demand is a non-starter, certain to scupper negotiations.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters last week that the six powers could not agree on what offer to bring to the talks on Saturday, McClatchy notes.
3) Writing at Informed Comment, Juan Cole dismisses two arguments given by analysts anonymously cited by James Risen in the New York Times for being skeptical about Supreme Leader Khamenei's fatwa against having or using nuclear weapons: that Khamenei criticized Qaddafi for giving up nuclear facilities, and that the Shiite doctrine of taqiyya allows Muslims to lie.
On the first, Cole notes that what Khamenei said about Qaddafi does not imply that Khamenei wants a nuclear weapon for Iran, since Khamenei merely referred to "nuclear facilities," and it is clear that having nuclear facilities can serve as a deterrent against Western military attack without having or pursuing a nuclear weapon.
On taqiyya, Cole notes that the doctrine is widely misrepresented by Muslim-haters as a blanket license for lying, when it is a circumscribed doctrine limited to self-defense against immediate threats to life and major property; and also that the doctrine is not embraced by leaders in modern Iran.
4) The head of U.S. special operations is mapping out a potential Afghanistan war plan that would replace thousands of U.S. troops with small special operations teams, AP reports. If approved, the pared-down structure could become an enduring U.S. force long after the U.S. drawdown date of 2014, AP says.
5) Israel blocked what organizers said were more than 1,500 foreigners from at least 15 countries who planned to travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank for what they described as a week of peaceful activities in solidarity with the Palestinians, the New York Times reports. Some visitors were being asked by the immigration authorities to sign pledges that they would not contact members of pro-Palestinian organizations or participate in any pro-Palestinian activities or protests. Organizers of the campaign, Welcome to Palestine 2012, said that they had no plans to stage demonstrations. A volunteer coordinator said planned activities included laying the foundations for a school, mural painting in refugee camps, helping Palestinian villagers plant trees, and attending cultural and artistic workshops.
6) Taliban-led insurgents opened a spring offensive Sunday with a wave of coordinated suicide missions, firing at embassies and government offices from seized buildings in Kabul and attacking U.S. bases and police stations in three eastern provinces, McClatchy reports. The attacks, a Taliban spokesman said, were "a message" in response to recent assertions by U.S. officials and NATO Secretary General Rasmussen "that there would be no spring offensive because we are not able to fight." The audacious attacks could fuel demands in the US and other NATO capitals to accelerate the withdrawal of international forces after more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, McClatchy says. The attacks showed that the insurgents remain fully capable of executing complex operations requiring extensive preparations, McClatchy says.
7) The White House has no intentions of ending CIA drone strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil, despite a unanimous demand of the Pakistani parliament that they do so, AP reports. U.S. officials say they will work in coming weeks and months to find common ground with Pakistan. In the meantime, the White House has raised the bar to who the CIA is allowed to target, applying new limits and all but curtailing so-called "signature strikes" where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity, AP says.
8) The Israeli military announced the suspension Monday of a senior officer caught on videotape striking a Danish pro-Palestinian activist in the face with a rifle during a standoff between soldiers and participants in a bike tour organized to draw attention to the living conditions of Palestinian villagers in the West Bank, the New York Times reports. The video was shown repeatedly on Sunday night on a popular Israeli television news program.
[The video is here: http://youtu.be/uL-GmYBNDqY - JFP.]
9) Both U.S. and Iranian leaders expressed satisfaction with the initial meeting Saturday of talks between Iran and the P5+1, McClatchy reports. But Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is already criticizing the talks.
10) A summit meeting of Western Hemisphere nations ended without a final statement of consensus Sunday, after the US and some Latin American nations remained sharply divided over whether to continue excluding Cuba from such gatherings, the New York Times reports. By refusing to sign a statement that would have called for the next summit meeting to include Cuba, Obama avoided antagonizing some Cuban-American voters in Florida, the NYT says. But Obama angered his political allies among union leaders and liberal groups, who had urged him not to certify that Colombia had met its obligations on labor rights. They cited continued human rights violations and killings of union organizers in Colombia.
1) Kim's Selection as World Bank President is a "Rare Historic Event" CEPR Co-Director Says
Could Lead to Significant Improvements In Health Care and Education for Poor People
Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 16, 2012
Washington, D.C.- The announcement that Jim Yong Kim will be the next president of the World Bank is positive news for people living in poverty or struggling with illness, Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Kim's track record at Partners in Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that he has what is needed to take on a tough challenge, Weisbrot added.
Weisbrot called Kim's appointment a "rare event, historically" and noted that, despite being a U.S. citizen, he was at least as unlikely to take orders from Washington as anyone that might be appointed from another country.
"There's just no comparison between him and any of the prior World Bank presidents," said Weisbrot. "The others were political insiders; they spent most of their lives getting rich or becoming politically powerful, or worse. Kim, by contrast, has spent most of his life trying to improve the lives of poor people."
"He'll have battles ahead with the Board of Directors, against Washington and its allies, but I would bet he will have some significant accomplishments to show by the end of his term," said Weisbrot.
Weisbrot noted that, even looking at the appointment from the viewpoint of U.S. politics, it was an anomaly. "Many millions of people who voted for President Obama had great hopes that he would appoint someone like Kim to a cabinet position, but it didn't happen." He compared Kim's nomination to President Obama offering Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman the position of Secretary of the Treasury.
Weisbrot added: "The Bank has often tended to prioritize corporate interests, and historically the U.S. has used the Bank to promote its own political and economic agenda. Kim can help limit the damage that the Bank does, and steer some money into positive projects that improve health and education."
Weisbrot noted that "Kim fought tenaciously at the WHO to get treatment for 3 million people for HIV/AIDS. This is the kind of leadership that will be needed at the Bank."
This year was the first time in the Bank's 68-year history that countries besides the U.S. have put forward candidates for the World Bank president. Developing countries nominated two candidates, Jose Antonio Ocampo, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who competed openly against Kim for the position. Several developing countries broke Washington's monopoly on the selection process by nominating economist and health expert Jeffrey Sachs at the beginning of March. Sachs withdrew following the announcement of Kim's nomination, throwing his support behind Kim.
"This could be the last time the U.S. gets to pick the World Bank president," Weisbrot said. "But it is truly good fortune that Kim was the choice this time."
2) Agreement reached with Iran on formal nuclear talks in May
Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers, April 16, 2012 06:11:38 AM
Istanbul - Opening a new chapter in their long, stormy relationship with Iran, the United States and five other major powers agreed Saturday to sit down with the Tehran government in six weeks for formal talks aimed at ensuring that its nuclear program will not lead to nuclear weapons.
The talks will take place May 23 in Baghdad, Iraq, one of the few Middle East capitals where the government in power, dominated by Shiite Muslims like the regime in Tehran, has shown sympathy with Iran's Islamic regime.
U.S. and European diplomats said the plan is to map out a step-by-step procedure to address concerns over Iran's dramatic expansion of its uranium stockpile. They stressed that any actions to ease the ever-tightening international sanctions against Iran would be reciprocal and based on concrete steps by Iran.
Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, took center stage after the day of talks, appearing at a post-conference press briefing under a banner headlined, in English, "Nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none."
He referred to the banner - which also had the pictures of five Iranian nuclear scientists who were assassinated, presumably at Israeli behest - and also reaffirmed the fatwa or order by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, declaring possession of a nuclear weapon to be "a sin."
That part of the Iranian message appears to have been delivered.
Jalili said the representatives of the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia had welcomed Iran's offer to cooperate in resolving the nuclear issue and specifically noted Khameini's fatwa. A senior American official later also specifically noted to reporters that Jalili had spoken of the fatwa behind closed doors in the meeting with foreign officials.
A second part of the Iranian message was a reassertion of its rights, as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear purposes - a right which the U.N. Security Council has demanded be suspended so long as there were questions about Iran's current enrichment program and its expansion of nuclear facilities deep underground.
The third part was Iran's desire to remove the international sanctions, which are now severely impairing Iran's ability to sell its oil and to conduct banking and trade transactions.
"We set out with a very clear objective," said Lady Catherine Ashton, the European Union's chief foreign policy official and spokesman for the six powers at the table. "We had to know if Iran was serious."
She called the talks, which ran for a good 12 hours Saturday, "constructive and useful." An aide said that in comparison with their last meeting with Iran in January 2011, when "the Iranians did not want to engage," this time "we had a positive feeling."
Ashton said the talks will attempt "step by step" to restore international confidence" in Iran's "exclusively peaceful" intentions in its nuclear program, with a policy of reciprocity. She did not spell it out, but the implication was the international community will respond by lifting one or more sanctions if Iran can answer the questions satisfactorily and open all its facilities to regular inspection.
One part of the joint statement that Jalili emphasized was that the non-proliferation treaty forms a key basis for the discussion on Iran's nuclear program, and Iran has the right to develop peaceful civilian uses for nuclear energy. What it didn't reaffirm - because France, Israel and other countries oppose it - was Iran's right to enrich nuclear material.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that the international community deny Iran the right to enrich uranium, but President Barack Obama refused to take that additional step in recent talks in Washington. Turkish diplomats, who are in closer touch with top officials in neighboring Iran than any of the powers at the talks, said any such demand is a non-starter, certain to scupper negotiations.
The plan between now and May 23 is to map out a framework that includes steps by both sides. Deputies of the senior officials who took part in the Istanbul meeting, "will prepare a draft proposal to create a framework for further cooperation," Jalili told reporters. "After drafting the program, reciprocal cooperation will start. We will witness steps on both sides."
A senior U.S. official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the Istanbul meeting showed that there is "a serious environment conducive for discussion." But the official stressed that no easing of sanctions will occur except in response to concrete steps by Iran. "We have no expectation today that we are lifting any sanctions," the official said. "Our dual track approach will continue," a reference to negotiations in parallel with the ratcheting up of sanctions. "Dialogue is not sufficient. We have to have concrete actions."
One surprising aspects of the talks Saturday was that many observers, including the hosts, the Turkish government, anticipated the major powers and the Iranians would agree on initial measures to build confidence for the weeks ahead - even an agreement to tone down the rhetoric and threats, including Israel's threat to launch pre-emptive strikes against Iran, that have raised fears of war and contributed to a rise in oil prices.
No such steps were forthcoming. Asked why not, the senior U.S. official said there was "no absence of ideas," and the task ahead was for Iran to put forward its ideas. As for agreeing to tone down the threats, "the tone today was one of serious" discussion, the official said.
In fact, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov, who represented his country in Istanbul, told reporters in Washington last week that the six countries could not agree on what offer to bring to the talks.
3) Iran's Forbidden Nukes and the Taqiya Lie
Juan Cole, Informed Comment, 04/16/2012
The Iranian and Chinese teams at the negotiations in Istanbul this weekend between the UN Security Council plus Germany on the one hand, and Iran on the other, are leaking that the meetings were felt productive and that the group will reconvene in Baghdad on May 23. The price of petroleum fell in Asian markets on the news of the negotiations.
It is said that Iranian negotiators stressed that the decisions on the nuclear program are taken by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and that he has given fatwas or considered legal rulings, against having or using nuclear weapons.
New York Times intelligence correspondent James Risen reported the debates inside the US intelligence community regarding Khamenei's stance.
The analysts who talked to him acknowledged that Khamenei has repeatedly denounced having or using nuclear weapons. But skeptics among them pointed to two counter-arguments.
One is that Khamenei criticized Muammar Qaddafi for giving up his nuclear plans in the face of Western pressure, which left him a sitting duck when NATO turned on him.
The other is that Shiite Muslims practice taqiyya or pious dissimulation. That is, they are allowed to lie for their faith under certain circumstances.
These are the only two counter-arguments the analysts appear to have conveyed to Mr. Risen, and they are both false.
What Khamenei said about Qaddafi does not imply that Khamenei wants a nuclear weapon for Iran. Qaddafi did not have a nuclear weapon. But having a nuclear program of some sort could function as a deterrent to foreign invasion, assuming the invaders could not know exactly how far the target country was from having an atom bomb. Nuclear latency or a nuclear breakout capability, where a country could quickly construct a nuclear warhead if it felt sufficiently threatened, is probably what Iran is actually trying for. Khamenei's statement on Libya is perfectly in accord with the principle that nuclear latency can have deterrent effects.
As for taqiyya, or pious dissimulation, it is widely misrepresented by Muslim-haters and does not apply in Khamenei's case. (The analysts quoted may or may not be bigots, but it is certainly wrong to see all Muslims or all Shiites as inveterate liars assured of divine forgiveness for their trespesses).
It is often alleged by the haters that all Muslims recognize a principle whereby it is all right to lie about their true beliefs. Some weird Scandinavian smear of Muslims went viral on the internets that began with falsehoods about all Muslims being licensed to lie. But in fact Islamic ethics forbids lying (kidhb), and it is mainly the Shiite branch of Islam that practiced taqiyya as a doctrine, not the Sunni. (There is a distinction between occasional Sunni mentions of taqiyya and a Shiite doctrine of same.)
For Shiites, who were often a minority in early Muslim societies, the doctrine of pious dissimulation was permission to say that they were actually Sunni Muslims if saying that would save their lives or their big property.
That is, it would not be permitted for a Shiite religious scholar in no immediate danger of being killed to issue a false fatwa on some issue other than whether he was a Sunni or Shiite, out of pious dissimulation.
Taqiyya is therefore not a license to just lie about anything at all, or to commit perfidy. It is just a permission to avoid dying uselessly because of sectarian prejudice.
Then we come to the Khomeinist tradition. Imam Ruhullah Khomeini, who led the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, demanded that taqiyya be abandoned in favor of holy war or jihad. Shiite expert Rainer Brunner argues that pious dissimulation has "completely lost its importance" in contemporary, Shiite-majority Iran.
So the idea that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the theocratic leader of a Shiite-majority Islamic Republic, would give a dishonest fatwa about a key principle in Islamic law (the prohibition on killing innocent non-combatants in war) is a non-starter. Khamenei, being in Khomeini's tradition, is bound by the latter's hostility to dissimulation. Moreover, there is no imminent threat of death hanging over Khamenei's head that would justify such dissimulation even in classical Shiite Islamic law.
Even by the laws of classical Shiism, no such formal ruling by a Shiite clerical leader could legitimately be dissimulation. If you can't dishonestly so much as drink wine, you certainly couldn't dishonestly make and blow up an atomic bomb! But in today's Khomeinist, Shiite-majority Iran, such dissimulation would be not even be considered.
Some argue that the Prophet Muhammad allowed the misleading of the enemy in war. But if he hadn't, he wouldn't have been so much as a wise man, much less a prophet. There is a key difference between misleading your enemy and issuing a binding legal ruling to your own community!
So the taqiyya argument is just some weird form of Islamophobia, and policy-makers and analysts can safely disregard it.
4) U.S. maps out special ops-heavy Afghan war plan
AP, April 12, 2012 11:15 AM
Washington - Adm. Bill McRaven, the head of U.S. special operations, is mapping out a potential Afghanistan war plan that would replace thousands of U.S. troops with small special operations teams paired with Afghans to help an inexperienced Afghan force withstand a Taliban onslaught as U.S. troops withdraw.
While the overall campaign would still be led by conventional military, the handfuls of special operators would become the leading force to help Afghans secure the large tracts of territory won in more than a decade of U.S. combat. They would give the Afghans practical advice on how to repel attacks, intelligence to help spot the enemy and communications to help call for U.S. air support if overwhelmed by a superior force.
The Associated Press learned new details of the draft plan this week.
The special operations proposal was sketched out at special operations headquarters in Tampa, Fla., in mid-February, with Central Command's Gen. James Mattis and overall Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen taking part, according to several high-level special operations officials and other U.S. officials involved in the war planning. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal has not yet been presented to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the White House.
If approved by the administration, the pared-down structure could become the enduring force that Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak indicated Tuesday at the Pentagon that his country needs, possibly long after the U.S. drawdown date of 2014.
McRaven's proposal amounts to a slimmed-down counterinsurgency strategy aimed at protecting the Afghan population as well as hunting the Taliban and al Qaeda. It's not the counterterrorist plan advanced by Vice President Joe Biden, which would leave Afghan forces to fend for themselves while keeping U.S. special operators in protected bases from which they could hunt terrorists with minimum risk, according to a senior special operations official reached this week.
Thousands of U.S. troops could remain in harm's way well after the end of combat operations in 2014, tasked with helping Afghans protect territory won by U.S. forces.
The Pentagon asked the top officials to draft this and other proposals to present to the White House after NATO allies decide how large a force to keep in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official familiar with the administration's deliberations.
Leaders of NATO nations are to meet May 20-21 in Chicago to discuss the war, among other issues.
The Pentagon by September will draw down the 23,000 troops that remain from the surge of 33,000 troops sent to Afghanistan in 2010 to buy time for the Afghan military and government to build both the numbers and expertise necessary to defend and govern themselves. Plans for the remaining 68,000 troops in Afghanistan are not yet complete, but most U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Allen, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, has indicated he would like to keep as many troops on the ground for as long as possible. But with a solid majority of Americans now against the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan and the sped-up departure of some of America's NATO allies from the war zone, the Obama administration is feeling some pressure toward a faster drawdown.
In the back-of-the-envelope version of the strategy, a couple thousand special operators, like Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force, would keep working with Afghan special forces to raid terrorist targets, the senior special operations official explained.
U.S. commanders would seek to keep the same number of defense intelligence troops in country to feed data to the smaller force and would also rely heavily on the CIA for intelligence, while an as-yet-undetermined number of conventional forces would provide everything from air to logistical support to keep all the special operations teams running, officials said.
Some two-thirds of the roughly 6,000-strong special operations force would head to Afghanistan's rural towns and villages to advise inexperienced Afghan forces. This would include expanding the Village Stability Operations program in Afghan villages, in which special operators help what is essentially an Afghan government-backed armed neighborhood watch to keep the peace.
Reliance on the program already had forced it to grow so quickly, however, that U.S. commanders had put regular military forces into some of the sites. That is how Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a regular soldier with no prior Afghanistan experience, ended up at one of the sites. He stands accused of killing 17 Afghan villagers in a shooting spree last month.
U.S. officials say they will take more care with selecting who gets deployed into such sensitive and remote posts in the future.
5) Israel Moves to Block Activists From Entering
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, April 15, 2012
Bethlehem, West Bank - Hundreds of police officers fanned out at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Sunday as Israel moved to block scores of pro-Palestinian campaigners from entering the country.
Organizers of the pro-Palestinian campaign said that more than 1,500 foreigners from at least 15 countries had planned to travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank for what they described as a week of peaceful activities in solidarity with the Palestinians. By Sunday evening, only three of them had made it to Bethlehem. Dozens more had been refused entry and were either being flown back where they came from, or were in detention awaiting deportation.
But, in an almost exact replay of a similar attempt by foreign activists to reach Bethlehem in July, most appeared to have been stopped at their points of departure after Israel instructed foreign airlines not to allow them to board their flights.
Israel had provided the airlines with the names of hundreds of people who the government said would face immediate deportation. Once notified, the airlines would bear the responsibility and cost of flying the passengers back.
Israeli officials had branded the activists as provocateurs, bent on causing disorder, and the police said that they were prepared to prevent possible disturbances at the airport. Some visitors were being asked by the immigration authorities to sign pledges that they would not contact members of pro-Palestinian organizations or participate in any pro-Palestinian activities or protests at Israeli-Palestinian friction points.
But the organizers of the campaign, Welcome to Palestine 2012, said that they had no plans to stage demonstrations. A volunteer coordinator, Abdel Fattah Abu Srour, said that the planned activities included laying the foundations for a school, mural painting in refugee camps, helping Palestinian villagers plant trees, and attending cultural and artistic workshops. Campaign organizers also asked arriving activists not to lie about the reason for their visit.
"To make people lie is a problem for us," said Mr. Abu Srour, a Bethlehem University professor, who is also an actor and playwright. "We want people to come and be honest and be received in a respectful and dignified way."
At a news conference in Bethlehem, one of the three activists who had reached the city on Sunday introduced herself as Tanya, a French citizen from Lyon. She said that 50 people from Lyon had tried to fly in from Geneva but that about half of them were not allowed to board.
6) Taliban lead attacks on U.S. bases and government sites across Afghanistan
Jonathan S. Landay and Ali Safi, McClatchy Newspapers, Sunday, April 15, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - Taliban-led insurgents opened a spring offensive Sunday with a wave of coordinated suicide missions, firing at embassies and government offices from seized buildings in Kabul and attacking U.S. bases and police stations in three eastern provinces.
The strikes, which seemed to catch U.S.-led forces and Afghan authorities by surprise, sparked fierce firefights in Kabul and two other cities that underscored the insurgency's lethality as U.S. combat troops gird for the second phase of a withdrawal due to end in 2014.
"This is the start of the spring operations," Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, declared in a cellphone interview with McClatchy. "This is just the beginning."
The violence, which lasted past nightfall in Kabul and Puli Alam, the capital of neighboring Logar province, claimed the lives of at least 26 insurgents and four civilians, Afghan and NATO officials said. At least 36 others, mostly civilians, were wounded. All of the casualties were Afghans. Some of the attackers were captured.
The attacks, Mujahid said, were "a message" in response to recent assertions by U.S. officials and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen "that there would be no spring offensive because we are not able to fight."
The audacious attacks - mirroring a September incident in which insurgents seized an unfinished high-rise and fired into the U.S. Embassy compound for nearly 24 hours before being killed by Afghan security forces - could also fuel demands in the United States and other NATO capitals to accelerate the withdrawal of international forces after more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.
There was no sign that ISAF or Afghan authorities had prior intelligence of the attacks, with security at the international force's headquarters and around the city no tighter than usual.
The attacks showed that the insurgents remain fully capable of executing complex operations requiring extensive preparations, including scouting the buildings they seized and transporting their weapons and extensive stocks of ammunition to them without being caught.
7) US officials: Drone strikes will go on in Pakistan
Kimberly Dozier, Associated Press, Fri, Apr 13, 2012
Washington - The White House has no intentions of ending CIA drone strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil, U.S. officials say, possibly setting the two countries up for diplomatic tensions after Pakistan's parliament unanimously approved new guidelines for the country's troubled relationship with the United States.
U.S. officials say they will work in coming weeks and months to find common ground with Pakistan, but if a suspected terrorist target comes into the laser sights of a CIA drone's hellfire missiles, they will take the shot.
It's not the first time the U.S. has ignored Pakistan's parliament, which demanded an end to drone strikes in 2008. What's different now is that the Pakistani government is in a more fragile political state, and can no longer continue its earlier practice of quietly allowing the U.S. action while publicly denouncing it, Pakistani officials say.
The parliament approved on Thursday recommendations intended to guide Pakistan's government in its negotiations to reset the U.S. relationship. The guidelines allow for the blockade on U.S. and NATO supplies to be lifted. The lawmakers demanded a halt to CIA-led missile attacks but did not make that a prerequisite to reopening the supply lines.
A recent series of high level U.S. military and State Department visits have produced backroom understandings on almost every issue except the drones, one former U.S. official briefed on the talks explained, with U.S. officials offering to negotiate some sort of payment to use the border crossing points, for instance.
But neither side is budging on the drone issue, so far, both U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
In the meantime, the White House has raised the bar to who the CIA is allowed to target, applying new limits and all but curtailing so-called "signature strikes" where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.
The White House also explored whether giving Pakistan advance notice of the strikes could become the basis of a compromise to keep the operation going.
8) Israeli Military Officer Suspended for Striking Activist With Rifle
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, April 16, 2012
Jerusalem - The Israeli military announced the suspension on Monday of a senior officer caught on videotape striking a Danish pro-Palestinian activist in the face with an M-16 rifle during a standoff between soldiers and participants in a bike tour organized to draw attention to the living conditions of Palestinian villagers in the West Bank.
Israeli leaders, from the prime minister on down, expressed shock and condemnation over the video, which was shown repeatedly on Sunday night on a popular Israeli television news program.
In a swift exercise of damage control hours after the video was broadcast, the military suspended the officer, Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, from his post as deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade and opened an investigation into the confrontation.
The clash took place on Saturday when Israeli soldiers blocked the path of some 200 Palestinians and their supporters who were cycling with flags and banners in the Israeli-controlled portion of the Jordan Valley. The bicycle tour was organized by a Palestinian youth organization with the participation of foreign activists from the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led organization that advocates nonviolent direct action against Israeli military rule in the occupied territories.
Yoav Mordechai, the chief spokesman of the military, said that the clash was grave, but that the video clip showed "only part of the picture" by leaving out violence on the part of the activists. Associates of Colonel Eisner told Israeli news media that two of his fingers were broken during the confrontation.
The Danish citizen involved in the episode, reached on Monday by telephone, strongly rejected the accusations. The man, a 20-year-old who identified himself only by the first name Andreas, said the military was filming the whole scene but had not provided any documentation of violence by protesters.
A Dutch volunteer said by telephone that Colonel Eisner had also hit her and a Palestinian woman in the face, and a Palestinian man in the back, with his rifle.
The activists said they had joined a peaceful protest against what they called the inequality, injustice and harassment faced by Palestinian villagers in the Israeli-controlled Jordan Valley.
The strip of land along the border with Jordan, a particularly sensitive part of the West Bank, is dotted with Jewish settlements. The current Israeli government insists that, for security reasons, it must retain a presence there under any future territorial agreement with the Palestinians.
The altercation occurred when the cyclists tried to leave the village of Ouja and join Route 90, a major north-south artery. Access to the road was blocked by a line of 10 to 20 soldiers, said Andreas, the Danish activist, who said he did not want to release his full name because it might jeopardize his presence in the West Bank.
The activists said they sang and chanted peacefully for about half an hour, then decided to walk toward the soldiers in an effort to reach Route 90. That is when Colonel Eisner became violent, they said. "There was no justification," said Andreas, whose lips were sutured after he was struck. "It was completely disproportionate."
9) Already, U.S. and Israel's Netanyahu are at odds over progress at Iran nuke talks
Sheera Frenkel - McClatchy Newspapers, April 16, 2012 04:28:15 PM
Jerusalem - Just two days after representatives of the United States and other key world powers met in Istanbul with Iran to discuss its nuclear program, Israel is throwing cold water on the effort, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charging that Iran was being given a "freebie."
Both U.S. and Iranian leaders expressed satisfaction with the initial meeting Saturday of talks between Iran and the P5+1 - the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Both sides saw the agreement to meet again May 23 in Baghdad as a step forward after more than a year of no talks.
But Netanyahu was unimpressed. "My initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie," Netanyahu said. "It has got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition."
President Barack Obama had defended the talks in comments to reporters Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, where he was meeting with heads of state from Latin America. He called the talks "an opportunity for us to negotiate and see if Iran comes to the table in good faith."
"The notion that somehow we've given something away ... would indicate that Iran has gotten something," Obama said. "In fact, they've got some of the toughest sanctions that they're going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don't take advantage of these talks. I hope they do."
A statement from Netanyahu's office said that the Israeli premier found the results of the talks unacceptable - arguing that Iran must immediately stop all uranium enrichment, remove enriched material from the country, and dismantle the nuclear facility in Qom.
10) Americas Meeting Ends With Discord Over Cuba
Jackie Calmes and William Neuman, New York Times, April 15, 2012
Cartagena, Colombia - A summit meeting of Western Hemisphere nations ended without a final statement of consensus on Sunday, after the United States and some Latin American nations remained sharply divided over whether to continue excluding Cuba from such gatherings.
President Obama and President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, the host, each proclaimed the Summit of the Americas a success at a joint news conference afterward, though the gathering yielded no major achievement. The meeting, the first since 2009, served mostly as a forum for leaders from more than 30 nations to air their positions on energy, trade and drug trafficking.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Santos each lauded their nations' separate accord over labor rights in Colombia, which cleared the way for Mr. Obama to allow the free trade agreement that the two nations concluded last year to take effect on May 15.
The developments made for a decidedly mixed result for Mr. Obama this weekend. By refusing to sign a statement that would have called for the next summit meeting to include Cuba, Mr. Obama avoided antagonizing some Cuban-American voters in Florida, a crucial battleground state in this year's presidential election. But he angered his political allies among American union leaders and liberal groups, who had urged him not to certify that Colombia had met its obligations on labor rights. They cited continued human rights violations and even killings of union organizers in Colombia.
"We regret that the administration has placed commercial interests above the interests of workers and their trade unions," Richard S. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in a statement.
The leftist leaders of Ecuador and Nicaragua stayed away from the meeting, at least partly because of the Cuba issue, which also blocked agreement on a consensus statement at the last Summit of the Americas in 2009. Another obstacle this time was Argentina's unsuccessful demand for language in it that would support its claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, a British dependency in the South Atlantic that Argentina calls the Malvinas. In that dispute, which boiled over into a war between Argentina and Britain in 1982, Mr. Obama said the United States remains neutral.
Before his news conference with Mr. Obama, Mr. Santos told reporters, "The fact there is no declaration is not a failure - just the opposite." He said that "the fact that these topics were discussed is a success," and added, "Hopefully within three years we will have Cuba as part of the summit."
With the backing of several other Latin American leaders, Mr. Santos gave prominence on the summit agenda to a discussion of whether the longtime, United States-led "war on drugs" ought to be replaced with some potentially more effective strategy, perhaps even decriminalization.
The leaders agreed to direct the Organization of American States to name a group of experts to study the issue. President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, who favors legalization, said in an e-mail message after the summit that drug use and trafficking was the only topic the leaders discussed at their final closed-door meeting on Sunday. In the discussion, he said, Mr. Obama reiterated his opposition to decriminalization.
"It is a very positive outcome, in the sense that we have to explore what else we can do to find new avenues" to combat the drug trade, Mr. Perez said.
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