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JFP 4/20: Karzai seeks faster US pullout; IAEA focus on Parchin challenged
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 20 April 2012 - 7:15pm
Just Foreign Policy News, April 20, 2012
Karzai seeks faster US pullout; IAEA focus on Parchin challenged
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
The US and Iran Are Talking: Why Is the New York Times Peddling Iran Islamophobia?
At long last, the U.S. and Iran are having serious talks about Iran's nuclear program. But the New York Times has told its readers that Iran's Supreme Leader is uniquely and intrinsically untrustworthy when he says that Iran will never pursue a nuclear weapon. Why? Because, according to the Times, Iran's leaders are Shiites, and Shiites have a religious doctrine called "taqiyya," which allows them to lie. Not one named analyst or scholar was cited in support of this claim.
* Take Action: Urge NYT Public Editor to Investigate Iran Islamophobia in NYT reporting on Iran diplomacy
Joel Rubin: Five Principles for a Nuclear Deal with Iran
War talk is counterproductive to U.S. interests; sanctions can only help diplomacy if the President can remove them as part of a deal; to get Iran to come clean about any past military research, we must be willing to close the nuclear file as part of an agreement; Iran has the right to a verifiably peaceful nuclear program; nuclear negotiations will not solve all concerns about Iran, which should be addressed on a parallel track, but these concerns should not be used as an excuse to hold up progress on the nuclear file.
Ralph Nader: The Prisoners in Gaza – Their Blackout Nightmare
Since 2009, the focus of both the Israeli and U.S. governments toward Iran has taken Gaza, the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, and the swallowing up of more land in the Palestinian West Bank, off of the news screens in the West, Nader writes. Bringing prominent Israeli peace advocates and military refuseniks to the U.S. Congress for their first-ever public hearing is way overdue, Nader says.
Guardian: WikiLeaks supporters plan US foundation to restore funding
Whistleblowing website's US backers look to break 'bank blockade' 500 days after Visa, MasterCard and PayPal blocked donations.
1) President Karzai suggested that a speeded-up departure of Western troops is the only way to prevent a recurrence of "painful experiences" such as the sight of American soldiers posing with the body parts of dead insurgents, the Los Angeles Times reports. The palace statement said Karzai sought an "accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, so Afghanistan can take over its own destiny, and thus no such things can be repeated by the foreign forces in Afghanistan."
2) The IAEA has turned Iran's Parchin military base into a high-profile test case of Iran's willingness to be transparent, Scott Peterson writes for the Christian Science Monitor. But veteran inspectors of the IAEA say the singular focus on visiting Parchin is a departure for the Agency that could jeopardize its credibility.
Hans Blix, former chief of the IAEA and later of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, has expressed surprise at the focus on Parchin, as a military base that inspectors had been to before, Peterson notes. "Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site," Blix told Al Jazeera about Parchin in March. "In a way, the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be."
Robert Kelley, an American veteran inspector of the IAEA, says the claims of the IAEA's report on suspected explosive tests at Parchin don't make sense. But he says any inspection should clear up the confusion at Parchin, especially if uranium was used, because it could not be hidden from the IAEA's sensitive instruments and detection techniques. "If you do an experiment in a container with uranium and explosives, that container would be highly contaminated," notes Kelley. "You can't get rid of the traces of uranium, and once you open the lid of the container, to clean it out and do another experiment, the building you're in will be totally contaminated with tiny traces of uranium that are very hard to hide."
3) Protesters clashed with police in Bahrain on Friday as thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators massed in the capital Manama on the opening day of Formula One, Reuters reports. Activists say riot police are trying to lock Shi'ites down in their villages to stop them gathering on main highways. They say around 102 protest organizers have been arrested in night raids in the past week and 54 people wounded in clashes, with heavy use of birdshot.
While sports journalists poured in to cover the race, non-sports reporters from Reuters and some other news organizations have not been granted visas to enter Bahrain, Reuters says. "Bahrain wants the international attention brought by hosting a Grand Prix but doesn't want foreign journalists to wander from the race track where they might see political protests," said Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
4) A USA Today reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to an internet disinformation campaign, USA Today reports. The campaign started after Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook first contacted Pentagon contractors involved in the program. The campaign apparently stopped after the military had made inquiries to information operations contractors to ask them about the Internet activity, which they all denied involvement in. If the websites were created using federal funds, it could violate federal law prohibiting the production of propaganda for domestic consumption, USA Today notes. [Given the fact that many such contractors are largely dependent on federal funds, it seems that there is a plausible case that federal law may have been broken, which raises the question of why there has been no formal investigation - JFP.]
5) Some analysts explain the apparent decision of Iran to abandon research related to the development of a nuclear weapon in 2003 as a result of the fall of Saddam Hussein, because it was Iranian intelligence in the 1980s that Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons research that had caused Iran to reverse an earlier decision by Khomeini to abandon research begun under the Shah to achieve breakout capacity, Karl Vick writes for Time Magazine, based on an interview with Iran expert and former U.S. official Gary Sick. The resulting project included what Sick terms "table-top experiments" with weaponization, "looking at what it would take to make a nuclear weapon. That," he says, "is the stuff that all the talk is about in the UN Security Council, all these efforts before 2003."
6) With the world watching and big money at stake, the Bahrain government has hoped to use the race to demonstrate that life has returned to normal, the New York Times reports. But the media spotlight on the race in recent weeks has to some extent resulted in the opposite: a closer look at the political situation and the protesters and their claims of human rights abuses.
Fan bloggers around the world have condemned the decision to maintain the race and called for television viewers to boycott broadcasts of it. In Japan and Finland, some broadcasters have said they will not show the race. Some Western companies are opting not to entertain clients and partners at the race following calls for sponsors to boycott it, Reuters reported.
7) A report in Argentina's La Nacion on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's extreme reaction to Argentina's nationalization of YPF from Spain's Repsol notes that in 2008, when Repsol was in line to be bought by Russia's Lukoil, Mariano Rajoy said: "Our petroleum, our gas and our energy cannot be put into the hands of a Russian company because it would convert us into a 5th division country."
8) The U.S. Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights has announced plans to monitor labor rights in Colombia during the implementation of the disputed FTA, according to Colombia Reports. "The transformation of commitments made in the Labor Action Plan into meaningful change on the ground for workers' rights has yet to be fully realized," the group said. "Ensuring that the Labor Action Plan works as intended is vital to that effort."
1) Afghanistan leader seeks swifter troop pullout amid photos furor
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai decries the behavior of U.S. troops photographed with insurgents' remains. Western troops' departure will prevent a recurrence, he says.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2012, 10:36 p.m.
Kabul, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai suggested Thursday that a speeded-up departure of Western troops is the only way to prevent a recurrence of "painful experiences" such as the sight of American soldiers posing with the body parts of dead insurgents.
In a statement issued by the Afghan presidential palace 24 hours after the Los Angeles Times published photos showing U.S. troops with the remains of suicide bombers and mugging for the camera, Karzai called the behavior depicted "inhumane and provocative."
"It is such a disgusting act to take photos with body parts and then share it with others," he said.
The Taliban, in its first public statement since the pictures of U.S. soldiers and dead bombers appeared, denounced the "gruesome acts" depicted in the photos. The militant group also lambasted Afghan soldiers who were present in some of the shots.
The palace statement said Karzai sought an "accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, so Afghanistan can take over its own destiny, and thus no such things can be repeated by the foreign forces in Afghanistan."
The NATO force is to wind down its combat role by the end of 2014, but growing numbers of troop-contributing nations have indicated they will pull out their forces next year. The transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, which has been in progress for a year, is a key prelude to the exit of Western combat troops.
In advance of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit next month in Chicago, Karzai has been highly critical of his Western patrons. This week, he said NATO's intelligence failures were primarily to blame for a wide-ranging spate of coordinated attacks in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and elsewhere. He also demanded specific financial commitments that he said must continue once most Western combat troops are gone.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups have reaped propaganda windfalls from a series of missteps this year involving American troops, including the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book at a U.S.-run base and the deaths of 17 Afghan civilians in a shooting rampage in Kandahar province, in which an American Army sergeant faces murder charges.
2) Iran's Parchin complex: Why are nuclear inspectors so focused on it?
The IAEA's determination to gain access to Parchin, an Iranian military complex that may hold clues to past weapons-related work, is unusual and could jeopardize its credibility.
Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2012
Istanbul, Turkey - Parchin. In the annals of Iran's controversial nuclear program, the sprawling military base southeast of Tehran may hold clues to past weapons-related work – or it may not.
Parchin has been turned into a high-profile test case of Iran's willingness to be transparent by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, which says it has new information on past weapons-related activities there, and seeks access to the site for the first time in seven years.
But veteran inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say the singular focus on visiting Parchin is a departure for the Agency that could jeopardize its credibility, considering the host of issues that remain between the IAEA and Iran. Also unusual is how open and specific the IAEA has been about what exactly it wants to see, which could yield doubts about the credibility of any eventual inspection.
"I'm puzzled that the IAEA wants to in this case specify the building in advance, because you end up with this awkward situation," says Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's head of safeguards until mid-2010.
"First of all, if it gets delayed it can be sanitized. And it's not very good for Iran. Let's assume [inspectors] finally get there and they find nothing. People will say, 'Oh, it's because Iran has sanitized it,'" says Mr. Heinonen, who is now at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "But in reality it may have not been sanitized. Iran is also a loser in that case. I don't know why [the IAEA] approach it this way, which was not a standard practice; but they may have a reason."
IAEA inspectors in January and November 2005 were given access to Parchin, a sprawling military base so large that it includes hundreds of buildings and underground structures.
At the time, it was divided into four geographical sectors by the Iranians. Using satellite and other data, inspectors were allowed by the Iranians to choose any sector, and then to visit any building inside that sector. Those 2005 inspections included more than five buildings each, and soil and environmental sampling. They yielded nothing suspicious, but did not include the building now of interest to the IAEA.
"The selection [of target buildings] did not take place in advance, it took place just when we arrived, so all of Parchin was available," recalls Heinonen, who led those past inspections. "When we drove there and arrived, we told them which building."
Since then, the IAEA says it has new information about a large explosives containment chamber installed in 2000. Experiments designed to simulate the first stages of a nuclear explosion, as suspected at Parchin, the IAEA stated last November, are "strong indicators of possible weapons development."
IAEA experts requested visiting Parchin during two visits to Tehran in January and February, but were refused. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano issued a terse statement, saying it was "disappointing that Iran did not accept our request."
Days later, the IAEA's quarterly report on Iran explained that Parchin was part of a larger negotiation. It stated that "modalities" had not been agreed with Iran to satisfy "Iran's security concerns, ensuring confidentiality, and ensuring that Iran's cooperation included provision of access for the Agency to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel in Iran."
Five Iranian scientists linked to its nuclear programs have been assassinated in Iran in the past two years, actions that Tehran blames partly on "leakage" of confidential information from the IAEA.
Hans Blix, former chief of the IAEA and later of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, has also expressed surprise at the focus on Parchin, as a military base that inspectors had been to before. "Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site," Mr. Blix told Al Jazeera English about Parchin in late March. "In a way, the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be."
The Parchin data doesn't add up for Robert Kelley, an American veteran inspector of the IAEA who retired three years ago.
"It doesn't hold together, it doesn't make sense. So I can't understand why Amano would bet the Agency's reputation on [Parchin]," says Mr. Kelley, contacted in Vienna.
The hydrodynamic experiments described in the IAEA report are rarely conducted in a cylinder or any confined space, says Kelley, and would have used several hundred kilograms of explosives – not just the 70 kgs (154 lbs) the IAEA says the container was supposedly designed for in the 1990s.
Any inspection should clear up the confusion at Parchin, especially if uranium was used, because it could not be hidden from the IAEA's sensitive instruments and detection techniques.
"If you do do an experiment in a container with uranium and explosives, that container would be highly contaminated," notes Kelley. "You can't get rid of the traces of uranium, and once you open the lid of the container, to clean it out and do another experiment, the building you're in will be totally contaminated with tiny traces of uranium that are very hard to hide."
The Associated Press in early March anonymously quoted "diplomats" accredited to the IAEA claiming that Iran had been trying to erase evidence of tests at Parchin, and sanitizing the site with haulage trucks and heavy equipment.
Heinonen says the commercial satellite imagery he has seen of Parchin showed "no immediate concern," and that heavy-equipment use was "far away" from the suspect building.
The IAEA regularly accounts for all of Iran's declared nuclear material to ensure that none of it has been diverted for weapons use. Among that material is uranium, and its enriched versions that, when taken above the 20 percent that Iran has achieved, to 90 percent, is suitable for weapons.
But also in every report, the IAEA says it can't confirm that Iran's programs are entirely peaceful, because Iran considers intelligence reports provided by the US, Israel, and others – which detail alleged past weapons-related work – to be forgeries that it will not address further.
3) Police, protesters face off as Bahrain Grand Prix begins
Alan Baldwin, Reuters, Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:52pm EDT
Manama - Protesters clashed with police in Bahrain on Friday as thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators massed in the capital Manama on the opening day of the Formula One Grand Prix meeting.
Masked youths hurled petrol bombs at police, who had stopped them marching to a main highway in an effort to return to a traffic roundabout that was a gathering point during an uprising last year. Reuters reporters at the scene said police responded by firing tear gas and sound bombs.
As Formula One cars took to the Sakhir circuit for practice, Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman rejected calls from human rights activists and the opposition to cancel Sunday's race, saying that would play into the hands of "extremists".
The protesters, mostly from the majority Shi'ite Muslim community, say they feel sidelined by a Sunni ruling elite, and have made clear they want to use the world's focus on the glitzy Formula One event to air their grievances.
Hundreds of demonstrators wanted to head towards Pearl Roundabout, the initial focus of protests when an uprising demanding the king grant democracy began in February 2011. Clashes ensued when police stopped them. "They are trying to go to Pearl Square, police are firing tear gas and sound bombs. I can see hundreds, they are still fighting," said activist Sayed Yousif al-Muhafda by telephone.
Protesters said they felt the Grand Prix, which returns to the Gulf island after being cancelled last year, was ill-timed. "I love cars," said Hassan Mohammed Hassan, who was wearing a red Ferrari T-shirt. "But the situation in Bahrain doesn't allow for Formula One to take place now. We are here to reject Formula One, we don't want it to take place in Bahrain."
The government, which has been criticized abroad for its suppression of pro-democracy protests, is seen to be using the Grand Prix as a way of showing that life is back to normal after democracy groups launched an Arab Spring-inspired uprising last year. The protests were initially crushed, but have come back in recent months with rallies of thousands and clashes with police.
Human rights organizations have argued that the race should not be held while what they describe as political repression and rights abuses are taking place in Bahrain, host to a U.S. naval base and an ally of neighboring Saudi Arabia in a tense and economically vital part of the world.
Hackers brought down the F1 website intermittently on Friday and defaced another site, f1-racers.net, to support what they described as the Bahraini people's struggle against oppression.
Only small crowds were seen in the grandstand on Friday for an event that has cost Bahrain an estimated $40 million to stage. The Grand Prix drew 100,000 visitors to the nation of just 1.3 million and generated half a billion dollars in spending when it was last held two years ago.
The leading Shi'ite cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, attacked the government in a sermon on Friday for ignoring popular demands. "This is the crisis of a government that does not want to acknowledge the right of people to rule by themselves and choose their representatives," he said.
Activists say riot police are trying to lock Shi'ites down in their villages to stop them gathering on main highways. They say around 102 protest organizers have been arrested in night raids in the past week and 54 people wounded in clashes, with heavy use of birdshot.
While sports journalists poured in to cover the race, non-sports reporters from Reuters and some other news organizations have not been granted visas to visit the Gulf island. "Bahrain wants the international attention brought by hosting a Grand Prix but doesn't want foreign journalists to wander from the race track where they might see political protests," said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.
Washington has only gently prodded Bahrain's rulers to improve their human rights record and push forward political reforms, and does not want to jeopardize ties with a ruling family it views as an ally in the region.
4) Misinformation campaign targets USA TODAY reporter, editor
Gregory Korte, USA Today, April 19, 2012
Washington – A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites.
Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names.
The timeline of the activity tracks USA TODAY's reporting on the military's "information operations" program, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan - campaigns that have been criticized even within the Pentagon as ineffective and poorly monitored.
For example, Internet domain registries show the website TomVandenBrook.com was created Jan. 7 - just days after Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook first contacted Pentagon contractors involved in the program. Two weeks after his editor Ray Locker's byline appeared on a story, someone created a similar site, RayLocker.com, through the same company.
If the websites were created using federal funds, it could violate federal law prohibiting the production of propaganda for domestic consumption.
A Pentagon official confirmed that the military had made inquiries to information operations contractors to ask them about the Internet activity. All denied it, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiries were informal and did not amount to an official investigation.
The websites were taken down following those inquiries.
[The timing of the websites going up and coming down, together with the fact that some of these companies are largely reliant on federal funds, add up to a plausible circumstantial case that federal law was broken. Why no investigation? - JFP.]
5) Blame Saddam: Another Way of Seeing Iran's Nuclear Program
Karl Vick, Time Magazine, April 19, 2012
In 2003, Iran set aside the portion of its nuclear program devoted to developing a weapon. That was the assessment of the American intelligence community, which among other things eavesdropped on hardliners complaining to one another about the decision. But why did Iran stop?
The conventional wisdom cites the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which at that point looked like a great success. The thinking is with 100,000 American troops on its longest border and tens of thousands more next door in Afghanistan, the mullahs simply got spooked. President George W. Bush had, after all, named them as part of his "axis of evil" and already launched one war in the name of corralling weapons of mass destruction.
But there's an alternate explanation, one that casts the entire Iranian nuclear program at a new and different angle. This explanation also assumes the mullahs' decision pivoted on the fall of Baghdad, but mostly because Saddam Hussein fell with it. Iran has more than its share of enemies, but Saddam was the the only one who spent eight years trying to conquer the place, launching the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 to topple the religious republic. It was the Iraqi dictator's pursuit of nuclear weapons that prompted Iran to revive a moribund nuclear program and explore the business of atomic warheads as well. And it was Saddam's demise that provided reason to abandon the effort – a logic that may well have been reinforced by the presence of all those U.S. troops on the doorstep.
"When the revolution happened in 1979 the Shah of course was in the midst of developing a nuclear power program, and everybody suspected that he was really going to go for a bomb," notes Gary Sick, a Columbia University expert who was at the National Security Council when the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by crowds chanting the name of Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini. "We have subsequently learned, from memoirs, that he wanted to have what he called a surge capability, by which he meant a breakout capability, whereby you have the means to assemble a weapon if you make the decision." Any country with nuclear power has that capability; it's typically just a matter of enriching uranium to a level of purity that renders it suitable for weapons.
"When the revolution happened all of that stopped," Sick says, "and Khomeini, who operated on the supposition that everything the Shah did must be bad, issued a fatwa saying nuclear weapons are sinful." The cleric was not simply contrary, of course. The Koran is pretty clear on the rules of war. You are not to kill non-combatants: "You do not kill indiscriminately," noted Sick, who laid out the alternate narrative for TIME. "That is the rule of Islam."
The Iranians appeared to take the rule seriously. When Iraq fired missiles, Iran wanted to fire back. But its woefully inaccurate missiles were almost sure to hit civilians. The Iranians' solution was to issue statements announcing that they were at least aiming at military targets. At the White House at the time, Sick took it all in. "They would always announce that they were aiming their weapons at a certain thing, in Basra or Baghdad, and of course their weapons were hugely inaccurate, but they could at least console themselves that they didn't want to. I read all of their announcements during that period. They were meticulous actually as far as these things go, not to kill indiscriminately…."
Then Saddam began using WMD. His forces fired shells filled with mustard gas, some even with Sarin, the nerve agent. Iranian intelligence passed on credible reports that Iraq was developing the means to manufacture a nuclear weapon. It was at this point that the mullahs reconsidered their own policy. The decision came in 1984, according to internal documents at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Khomeini lifted the fatwa, and Iran revived the shah's nuclear effort. This time the justification was found in the Koran's permission for self-defense.
Of course, the worries about an Iraqi bomb were entirely valid. By the time U.S. forces entered Iraq in the First Gulf War, in 1991, the nuclear program appeared to be within a year of producing a deliverable weapon. The program was dismantled under UN supervision as a condition of Saddam's surrender. And despite the dictator's subsequent bluster and a lot of bad U.S. intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion, it was never actually revived.
The Iranians may not have known that any more than the West did. "They believed Saddam was developing a nuclear weapon," Sick says. "He wanted people to believe. We did. Iran believed that too." So Tehran continued its own clandestine program, begun with the help of Pakistan. The project included what Sick terms "table-top experiments" with weaponization, "looking at what it would take to make a nuclear weapon. That," he says, "is the stuff that all the talk is about in the UN Security Council, all these efforts before 2003."
Indeed, most of what appears in the annex of the Nov. 8, 2011 report of the IAEA, titled "Possible Military Dimensions to Iran's Nuclear Programme," documents efforts from before 2003, though inspectors also raise suspicions about some work done since. But if it pays to be skeptical of Iran's leadership, it never hurts to bring the Iran-Iraq war into an effort to understand Iranian thinking. The eight-year war was the searing experience of national life, claiming at least 300,000 lives and perhaps twice that. Billboards honoring the war dead still line major freeways. Tehran's main military cemetery is a city unto itself.
Comparatively speaking, the belligerence toward Washington and Israel is almost elective, though that could change in a heartbeat if one or both countries launch an attack on the nuclear facilities. Since being exposed in 2002, the program has become synonymous with scientific advancement and defiant national pride. Sick suggests the hidden side of the program, exploring weaponization, remains a source of embarrassment even as history, in that Khomeini's successor as Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has repeated the fatwa against atomic weapons, emphatically and repeatedly.
So as negotiations between world powers and Tehran resume next month, it may be fitting that the meeting will be in Baghdad. "The reality is they've already been around that track once," says Sick. "They put in the prohibition. They suspended it, at least, when they believed they were faced with an adversary who really wanted to do away with them. But after that they went back to Khomeini's position, which became Khamenei's position."
And it's entirely possible, he says, that the entire Iranian enterprise has come full circle, returning to the position of the Shah, who got his start with a US program called Atoms for Peace, and took things from there. It's all the mullahs claim to want as well. "That does not mean they won't have a surge or breakout potential," Sick says. "But that's true of at least 40 countries in the world right now, so Iran wouldn't be alone."
6) In Bahrain, Business Is Not as Usual
Brad Spurgeon, New York Times, April 20, 2012
Perhaps no other Formula One race has been as politically charged and controversial as the Bahrain Grand Prix that is to be run this weekend near Manama.
More than a car race, the event has become a flash point in the battle between Bahrain's ruling royal family and anti-government opposition groups, with Formula One and the sport's governing body drawn in.
The monarchy has insisted that the race can unite the Gulf kingdom, visibly divided since protests began 14 months ago amid the region's Arab Spring uprisings. The opposition wants the race stopped in protest of what it considers the regime's monopoly on power and human rights violations.
The statutes of the governing body of the series, the International Automobile Federation, say that the federation and its series "shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect."
In Bahrain, however, a political and religious storm is raging. The ruling family is Sunni Muslim and the majority of the kingdom's population is Shiite. The protests that began in February 2011 have included Shiite claims of discrimination in the country, where Shiites say the best jobs and government posts go only to Sunnis.
"The regime was isolated because of the crimes it committed and the Bahrain Grand Prix is giving a way out for the government, especially the royal family," said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. "We need this regime to be punished for the crimes it has committed in the past year and half."
So with the world watching and big money at stake, the government has hoped to use the race to demonstrate that life has returned to normal in Bahrain. But the media spotlight on the race in recent weeks has to some extent resulted in the opposite: a closer look at the political situation and the protesters and their claims of human rights abuses.
Jasim Husain, the former leader of the Bahrain opposition group Wefaq, said on a visit to the Formula One paddock on Thursday that for the protesters, the race "is an opportunity to raise awareness."
Whether it likes it or not, Formula One is sitting in the center of the tumult. The last-minute decision to go ahead with the Bahrain race was made, the F.I.A. said last week, because the Gulf kingdom was deemed safe, regardless of political concerns or the almost daily, violent clashes.
Last year, although Formula One expressed grave doubts about holding the race, it was the kingdom itself that called it off. The government said at the time that it was more important to open dialogue with protesters than to hold the race. This year, the regime assured Formula One organizers, the F.I.A., the teams and the commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, that everyone involved in the race would be safe.
Yet in recent weeks, the protests and the violence have increased. Reporters Without Borders, a French press advocacy group, has listed Bahrain as among the countries most dangerous to journalists. The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières stopped sending doctors to Bahrain and said that the kingdom's hospitals were considered so dangerous for the Shiite majority that many injured in protests would not use them.
Amnesty International said in a report that Bahrain was falling deeper into human rights abuses and that if the race was run, it would feed what it called the monarchy's propaganda aims.
"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," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director. "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."
A British government minister called for the race to be canceled earlier this week, and fan bloggers around the world have condemned the decision to maintain the race and called for television viewers to boycott broadcasts of it. In Japan and Finland, some broadcasters have said they will not show the race.
Some Western companies are opting not to entertain clients and partners at the race following calls for sponsors to boycott it, Reuters reported.
Shell, which sponsors the Ferrari team, will not be hosting any guests at the event, a source familiar with the company's plans told Reuters.
7) YPF: The joy of Rajoy, Incakolanews, 4/19/12
Argentina's newspaper of record, La Nacion, isn't anything close to being a mouthpiece of the Kirchner government and is usually either making snarky undercurrent comments against Prez CFK or outright opposing her. So to see the paper running this story today makes the subject matter all the more interesting. The report is all about Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his reaction to Argentina's nationalization of YPF, that plays against Spain's Repsol. This week he said:
"It's unjustifiable...it greatly affects the international reputation of Argentina."
But here's the fun bit. Back in 2008 when Repsol was in line to be bought by Russia's Lukoil, here's what Mariano Rajoy said then:
"Our petroleum, our gas and our energy cannot be put into the hands of a Russian company because it would convert us into a 5th division country."
So, how's this work again? Repsol's production in Argentina is Spain's oil and if those sneaky Russkies try to cut in on the deal it'd relegate Spain to the 5th division, but Argentina daring to claim that the oil produced in its country should be Argentine rather than Spanish is a totally unjustifiable stance and a bad bad thing.
8) US to monitor FTA labor rights obligations
Rosemary Westwood, Colombia Reports, Thursday, 19 APRIL 2012 15:42
The United States Congress has announced plans to monitor labor rights in Colombia during the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement, amid internal dissent after the agreement was finalized on April 15.
U.S. Democrat Representative Hank Johnson on Thursday criticized his government's decision to move forward on the FTA. "Violence against Colombian workers and minorities, and impunity for the perpetrators of violence, are rampant," he said in a statement.
His comments came the same day the U.S. Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights, of which Johnson is a member, announced it will also participate in a Colombian Senate debate on the Labor Action Plan set for next week.
"The Government of Colombia continues to fail to protect its own people and has not yet met its obligations under the Plan," Johnson charged. "We have the leverage to demand results. Let's use it."
The Labor Action Plan was a prerequisite for approval of the FTA and includes the enforcement of laws recognizing the rights of workers to organize and the prosecution of past cases of violence against labor leaders.
The working group is made up of prominent U.S. politicians including minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
In the statement, the group reiterated its committment to ensuring both countries make progress on labor rights." When President Obama announced this week that the Administration intends to put the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement into force next month, he noted that while Colombia has made significant progress to ensure the protection of labor rights, we all know that more work still needs to be done," the group announced.
"The transformation of commitments made in the Labor Action Plan into meaningful change on the ground for workers' rights has yet to be fully realized, and Colombia faces a long and challenging road to assure that workers can freely exercise fundamental internationally recognized rights," the group declared. "Ensuring that the Labor Action Plan works as intended is vital to that effort."
Trade unionists in Colombia are frequent targets of violence, and the country has a 95% impunity rate for unionist killings, according to the Colombian National Union of Food Workers (SINALTRAINAL).
Between 2010 and 2012, 85 trade unionists have been killed, despite Labor Action Plan promises to tackle the violence. The finalization of the FTA despite ongoing threats to labor rights organizers has met with fierce criticism from both Colombian and U.S. unions. The agreement has caused Colombian labor activists to question U.S. commitment to human rights.
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