JFP 4/17: Oil falls on talks; Aussies 2 quit war; Palprisoners hungerstrike; Bibi fears Iran talks win
Just Foreign Policy News, April 17, 2012
Oil falls on talks; Aussies 2 quit war; Palprisoners hungerstrike; Bibi fears Iran talks win
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
* Action: Urge Obama to speak up to protect human rights defenders in Bahrain
Fourteen Bahrainis are in prison for supporting peaceful protests for democracy and human rights. One is on hunger strike and near death. Urge President Obama to speak up.
WOIC, Columbia, SC: JFP on Iran nuclear talks
Just Foreign Policy discusses reasons for optimism on Iran nuclear talks with Frank Knapp of WOIC-AM in Columbia, South Carolina.
Jamal Abdi: Congress should not sabotage Iran negotiations
In the aftermath of this weekend's negotiations between Iran and the United States, with an agreement for a second round next month in Baghdad, congressional hawks are going to try to ram through new sanctions.
SoftboxFilms Video: 53% of your tax dollars go to military spending
Based on a "Flashpoints" interview with Dennis Bernstein & Dave Lindorff.
+972: 'Political contract' required to enter Israel?
A Swedish tourist trying to enter Israel was made to sign a "contract" promising she won't get in touch with "pro-Palestinian" organizations, and acknowledging she'd get deported if she "gets caught doing even one of these things."
The Real News: Israel Denies Entry to Hundreds in Day of Action
At Ben Gurion airport, Israelis who came to welcome solidarity activists were arrested, while right-wingers were allowed to protest without police interference.
Catholic bishops on cutting the military budget
"A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending…"
"We are also very concerned with proposals to eliminate the 'firewall' that currently exists between defense and nondefense spending. Elimination of this firewall would mean that poverty-related domestic and international programs would compete with other more powerful interests and less essential priorities. Likewise, reverting to a 'security/non-security' distinction for Fiscal Year 2013 would threaten international development assistance."
1) Oil prices fell a second day after talks on Iran's nuclear program yielded an agreement to reconvene in May, Bloomberg reports. Futures declined as much as 0.9 percent in New York after sliding 0.5 percent last week. Oil has advanced this year on concern that tension with Iran will disrupt global supplies. "The flavor of those talks did seem a little more positive than the rhetoric of the past," said David Lennox, an analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney.
2) Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia said she expected her country to complete its military withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ahead of schedule, citing security improvements while acknowledging "the peoples of the world's democracies are weary of this war," the New York Times reports. Gillard said a contingent of special forces would remain in Afghanistan after the troop withdrawal to conduct counterinsurgency operations.
3) About 1,500 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention began an open-ended hunger strike Tuesday, CNN reports. Their action came as Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza gathered to observe the annual Prisoners' Day, marking solidarity for the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Of the roughly 4,700 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, approximately 300 are in administrative detention, meaning they can be detained indefinitely without charge, CNN notes.
4) Amnesty International says human rights violations continue in Bahrain and the government's response to the findings of an international commission of inquiry have proved inadequate, Al Jazeera reports. "The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
5) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu fears that talks with Iran will succeed, because then world powers will turn toward the Israeli occupation and its injustices, writes Akiva Eldar in Haaretz.
6) House Republicans began rolling out a new wave of budget cuts to food stamps, child tax credits and Social Service block grants, not for debt reduction but to sustain future Pentagon spending without relying on new taxes, the Politico reports. What's more explicit in this round is the real shift of resources from the domestic side of the ledger to military spending, Politico says.
7) Corporate Accountability International says that while water privatization has been proven not to help the poor, a quarter of all World Bank funding goes directly to corporations and the private sector, bypassing governments and World Bank standards and transparency requirements, Inter Press Service reports. One third of all private water contracts signed between 2000 and 2010 have failed or are in distress, the report says. Poor water quality and sanitation bring about gastrointestinal diseases and parasites that are "the leading cause of illness and death throughout the developing world," IPS notes.
8) Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Iran is ready to resolve all of its nuclear disputes "quickly and easily" in a second round of talks with world powers planned for next month in Baghdad, AP reports.
9) Argentina's president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced the government would seize a majority stake in YPF, the nation's largest oil company, the New York Times reports. Seizing YPF appears to be a popular move in Argentina, the Times notes. Many Argentines still resent the privatization of state-owned companies in the 1990s.
10) Avaaz is organizing online against a threatened law in Honduras that would mandate imprisonment of teenage women for using the so-called "morning-after" emergency contraceptive pill, Ali Gharib reports for Think Progress.
1) Oil Declines for a Second Day After Iran Nuclear Talks
Ben Sharples, Bloomberg, April 16, 2012
Oil fell a second day after the first international talks in 15 months on Iran's nuclear program yielded an agreement to reconvene in May.
Futures declined as much as 0.9 percent in New York after sliding 0.5 percent last week. United Nations Security Council members including the U.S., U.K., China, France and Russia plus Germany will meet Iranian delegates in Baghdad on May 23 following "constructive" talks in Istanbul on April 14, the European Union's foreign policy chief said yesterday. Oil has advanced this year on concern that tension with Iran will disrupt global supplies.
"The flavor of those talks did seem a little more positive than the rhetoric of the past," said David Lennox, an analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney. "Between $90 and $100 a barrel would appear to be a fair value" for West Texas Intermediate prices without the Iran premium, he said.
Crude for May delivery slipped as much as 97 cents to $101.86 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $101.97 at 3:17 p.m. Singapore time. The contract fell 0.8 percent to $102.83 on April 13, the lowest close since April 11. Prices are up 3.2 percent this year.
Brent oil for June settlement dropped $1.39, or 1.2 percent, to $119.82 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark contract's front-month premium to New York-traded West Texas Intermediate was at $17.34, compared with $19 on April 13.
The talks in Istanbul lasted 10 hours and were also described as constructive by the Iran's lead negotiator, Saeed Jalili. The Islamic Republic dropped upfront demands, and the discussions focused almost exclusively on the nation's nuclear program, according to two Western diplomats involved.
2) Australia to Withdraw From Afghanistan Earlier Than Planned
Matt Siegel, New York Times, April 17, 2012
Hobart, Australia - Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia said on Tuesday that she expected her country to complete its military withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ahead of schedule, citing recent security improvements there while also acknowledging that "the peoples of the world's democracies are weary of this war."
Ms. Gillard, in a speech to a policy institute in Canberra, said that the withdrawal would begin as soon as President Hamid Karzai declared that Afghanistan's forces were capable of taking over responsibility for security in Oruzgan Province, where most of Australia's 1,550 troops are stationed.
Mr. Karzai is expected to make that announcement this month, meaning that the timetable would be significantly advanced for Australia, which had planned to withdraw its troops by the end of 2014. Under the new schedule, Australia's troops would be home before the end of 2013, and possibly before the country's federal elections next year, which must be held by Nov. 30.
"I'm now confident that Chicago will recognize mid-2013 as a key milestone in the international strategy, a crucial point when the international forces will be able to move to a supporting role across all of Afghanistan," Ms. Gillard said, referring to a NATO meeting scheduled for next month in Chicago, during which she plans to present formally the new timeline.
The Australian military, which sent more than 2,000 troops to fight in Iraq, has the largest contingent of any non-NATO member fighting in Afghanistan. At least 32 Australian soldiers have been killed and 219 wounded in Afghanistan since 2001, and the war has become increasingly unpopular with the Australian public in recent years.
Ms. Gillard said that a contingent of special forces soldiers would remain in Afghanistan after the general troop withdrawal to help with training and to conduct counterinsurgency operations.
3) 1,500 Palestinian prisoners start hunger strike
Jerusalem -- About 1,500 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention began an open-ended hunger strike Tuesday.
Their action came as Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza gathered in various events to observe the annual Prisoners' Day, marking solidarity for the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
The Palestinian Prisoner's Association Club, an inmate advocacy group, said 1,500 prisoners were taking part in the hunger strike and suggested that more from a range of Palestinian political factions were expected to follow.
"The Palestinian detainees who are on hunger strike are protesting Israel's treatment to prisoners inside the Israeli prisons," said Amani Sarahna, a club spokeswoman. "They are protesting Israel's policy of administrative detention and solitary confinement for prisoners for months at a time. They are protesting the arbitrary fines imposed on prisoners by the Israeli authority, the prevention of families, especially of those from Gaza."
Sarahna added that another 10 Palestinian prisoners had been waging hunger strikes of varying durations before Tuesday's mass effort. Those strikers are currently suffering from difficult health conditions, according a club press release.
A prisoner named Omar Abu Shallal, who has been on a hunger strike for 44 days, "is suffering from total faintness and is having difficulty sleeping in additions to headaches and back pains," the release said.
Other prisoners have endured longer strikes, such as Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, who are currently on their 50th day, the released noted.
Administrative detention is a controversial Israeli practice that allows authorities to detain people indefinitely. There is no requirement to charge detainees held under this practice. Of the roughly 4,700 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, approximately 300 are in administrative detention.
4) Bahrain criticised for 'inadequate' reforms
Amnesty International says government did little to bring justice to protesters after inquiry proved rights violations.
Al Jazeera, 17 Apr 2012 02:25
Rights violations continue in Bahrain and the government's response to the findings of an international commission of inquiry have proved inadequate, Amnesty International has said.
In a report released on Tuesday, the rights group found that Bahrain had failed to achieve justice for protesters with the piecemeal reforms implemented following the November 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
The BICI, set up by King Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa submitted a hardhitting report of its investigation into human rights violations committed in connection with the anti-government protests last year.
It found that security forces had used excessive force to suppress protests and tortured detainees to extract confessions.
Amnesty's investigation found that despite some institutional and other reforms, Bahrain's overall response to those findings has been inadequate.
"The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests. Their reforms have only scratched the surface," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
"The government's huge financial investment in international experts to help them reform will go to waste unless it shows real political will to take difficult decisions - in particular, holding to account senior members of the security forces accused of violations, releasing prisoners of conscience and addressing the underlying discrimination against the Shia majority population."
"With the world's eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no-one should be under any illusions that the country's human rights crisis is over," Sahraoui said.
Formula One drivers are making their way to Bahrain for the race set to take place there this weekend, despite hundreds of protesters who continue to clash with police in what has become a regular occurrence in the capital Manama.
5) Netanyahu fears victory over Iran's nuclear program
It appears that the sanctions campaign and/or the fear of a military assault are liable to push the Iranian nuclear issue off the Israeli and international agenda.
Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, 01:18 16.04.12
A recent skit on the sketch comedy "Eretz Nehederet" featured a "debate" about the Iranian nuclear program between U.S. and Israeli leaders.
After some discussion, U.S. President Barack Obama accedes to the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and he urges them to attack Iran. Netanyahu and Barak exchange frightened glances and plead with Obama to stop them.
Here's an idea for a different version of a sketch on the same subject: After the talks that began on Saturday between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, Obama tells Netanyahu and Barak that Iran has agreed to restrict its uranium enrichment and open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. Bibi looks at his defense minister with a crestfallen expression and mutters angrily: "What are we going to do without the Hitler of Tehran? Who will we say is threatening us with a second Holocaust?"
It has recently come to seem increasingly likely that this scenario could become more than just satire. Take the ruling by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, banning the production, storage and use of nuclear weapons. Or the Washington Post opinion piece by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in which he said Iran has already expressed its opposition to weapons of mass destruction. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has promised "good news" at the end of the talks between Iran and the six powers. It appears that the sanctions campaign and/or the fear of a military assault are liable to push the Iranian nuclear issue off the Israeli and international agenda.
From Netanyahu's perspective, the suspension of the Iranian nuclear threat could become a Pyrrhic victory: The world powers will turn toward other crises in the Middle East - including, of course, the Israeli occupation and its injustices. Without having to fear an Iranian nuclear bomb, Israelis are liable to get involved in the demographic and democratic issues in their own country. If the prime minister doesn't cut down on settlements and accept the June 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution, he will go down in history as the leader who contributed to the isolation of Iran while simultaneously intensifying Israel's isolation. For how long will Israel be able to close its doors to peace activists or hide behind the childish argument that the human rights situation in Syria is much worse than in the territories occupied by "the only democracy in the Middle East"?
6) Republicans to slash food stamps
David Rogers, Politico, April 16, 2012 12:04 PM EDT
From food stamps to child tax credits and Social Service block grants, House Republicans began rolling out a new wave of domestic budget cuts Monday but less for debt reduction - and more to sustain future Pentagon spending without relying on new taxes.
Going into November's election, President Barack Obama's signature health care and financial market reforms are again favorite targets. And with as many as six House committees involved, the whole budget drill can resemble "Casablanca" with Claude Rains's Captain Renault ordering his men: "Round up the usual suspects!"
But what's more explicit in this round is the real shift of resources from the domestic side of the ledger to military spending. Caught in the middle are not just Obama's ideas but the working poor and long-term unemployed forced for the first time to rely on programs like food stamps in the current recession.
7) World Bank Supports Harmful Water Corporations, Report Finds
Johanna Treblin, Inter Press Service, April 16
United Nations - Water privatisation has been proven not to help the poor, yet a quarter of all World Bank funding goes directly to corporations and the private sector, bypassing both governments and its own standards and transparency requirements in order to do so, says a new report released Monday.
People in many developing countries often lack access to clean water, but the approach to remedy this problem has shifted in recent years to rely more on the private sector. Yet, as this new report and several other watchdog groups have shown, the change has been more harmful than helpful.
Corporate Accountability International, the U.S.-based non-governmental organisation that published the report, has called on the World Bank to stop funding the private water sector and start redirecting its money to public and democratically accountable institutions.
The release of the report, entitled "Shutting the Spigot on Private Water: Case for the World Bank to Divest", coincides with the start of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's 2012 Spring Meetings.
The World Bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), has spent 1.4 billion dollars on private water corporations since 1993, according to the report.
As of January 2013, that investment will increase to 1 billion dollars per year. The report also says that the IFC is attracting 14 to 18 dollars of follow-up private investment for every 1 dollar it directly invests.
This money helps explain why the World Bank and the IFC continue to fund private water corporations, even though roughly one third of all private water contracts signed between 2000 and 2010 have failed or are in distress – four times the failure rate of comparable infrastructure projects in the electric and transportation sectors, according to CAI.
"Rather than focusing on guaranteeing access to clean and affordable water, the World Bank has promoted measures that will cost consumers more money for water," says a 2010 report from the NGO Food and Water Watch.
The high cost can also be defined in human terms. That same report pointed out how poor water quality and sanitation bring about gastrointestinal diseases and parasites that are "the leading cause of illness and death throughout the developing world".
8) Iran FM says nuclear dispute can be solved 'quickly,' urges lifting of sanctions
Associated Press, April 16
Tehran, Iran - Iran is ready to resolve all of its nuclear disputes "quickly and easily" in a second round of talks with world powers planned for next month in Baghdad, the country's foreign minister said Monday.
Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency as saying that Iran might be more flexible if it could be guaranteed an external supply of enriched uranium - an apparent endorsement of a U.S. compromise proposal.
Iran's homegrown enrichment program is one of its main points of contention with the West.
The minister also urged Western countries to move toward lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic, calling this a "trust-building" measure that could speed up negotiations.
His statements appear to signal flexibility after Saturday talks in Istanbul with world powers over Iran's controversial nuclear activities. Both sides hailed the talks as positive and a new round was scheduled in the capital of Iran's ally, Iraq.
"We are ready to solve all issues very quick and easily, even in the Baghdad talks, if there is goodwill," Salehi said.
"It is possible to discuss in the talks percentages of uranium enrichment," said Salehi. "If they guarantee supplying us with fuel of various enriched levels, the case will be different."
9) Argentina to Seize Control of Oil Company
Simon Romero and Raphael Minder, New York Times, April 16, 2012
Rio de Janeiro - Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced on Monday that the government would seize a majority stake in YPF, the nation's largest oil company.
The expropriation would reassert state control over an important pillar of Argentina's economy, but it has already increased diplomatic tensions with Spain and the European Union. Mrs. Kirchner quickly ousted Sebastián Eskenazi as YPF's chief executive, naming two top aides, Julio de Vido and Axel Kicillof, to run the company.
Under Mrs. Kirchner's plan, which she announced on national television, Argentina's government would take a 51 percent controlling stake in YPF, which is now majority-owned by a Spanish energy company, Repsol YPF. Of that new stake, Argentina's central government would get 51 percent and the country's provinces 49 percent. The plan is part of a bill submitted to Argentina's Congress that is widely expected to be approved.
The Spanish government repeated its earlier pledge to retaliate, though it did not specify how.
Mrs. Kirchner said that the expropriation of YPF, a company founded by Argentina's government in the 1920s and privatized in the 1990s, was a "recovery of sovereignty and control." She said the move would allow Argentina to raise production, after the country recently became an energy importer.
For months, the central government and provincial officials have pressured YPF to raise its investments in Argentine production. The government's tactics had included revoking concessions for coveted fields.
Seizing YPF appears to be a popular move in Argentina, where caps on residential energy prices and a growing economy have helped push energy demand to new highs. Argentina's oil production has declined in the last decade as regulatory uncertainty persisted over price caps and the policies over profit remittances. Many Argentines still resent the privatization of state-owned companies in the 1990s, so taking on YPF gives Mrs. Kirchner the opportunity to go after a symbol of that time.
Still, the street-level appeal of the move by Mrs. Kirchner, who sailed to re-election last October, was clear. "This is a company that has been incredibly profitable and yet none of the profits have stayed in this country," said Gustavo Vásquez, a 31-year-old metalworker in Buenos Aires. "Now they will."
10) Human Rights Group Petitions Honduras To Not Criminalize Morning-After Pill
Ali Gharib, Think Progress, Apr 16, 2012
The online organizing website Avaaz.org alerts readers that the Honduran authorities are considering a law that would mandate imprisonment of teenage women for using the so-called "morning-after" emergency contraceptive pill - as well as doctors who provide the medicine. An Avaaz petition said:
"Honduras is just days away from approving an extremist law that would put teenagers in prison for using the morning-after pill, even if they've just been raped. … Some Congress members agree that this law - which would also jail doctors or anyone who sells the pill - is excessive, but they are bowing to the powerful religious lobby that wrongly claims the morning-after pill constitutes an abortion. Only the head of the Congress, who wants to run for the Presidency and cares about his reputation abroad, can stop this."
Avaaz is asking Congress President Juan Orlando Hernández to "not to criminalize contraception":
"Your proposed law 54 would make Honduras the only country in the world to punish the use or sale of the morning-after pill with jail sentences of 3-10 years. We urge you to reject this extremist law and respect women's rights, or risk condemnation both in Latin America and across the world."
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