JFP 5/2: Israeli security establishment blocking for Obama against Bibi on Iran diplomacy

Just Foreign Policy News, May 2, 2012
Israeli security establishment blocking for Obama against Bibi on Iran diplomacy


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

*Action: Urge John Brennan to Tell the Whole Truth about CIA drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan
On Monday, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan claimed that "the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists." What Brennan didn't say was that the CIA has launched drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen without knowing who would be killed, against people who are not on any list of "suspected terrorists," on the basis that according to U.S. intelligence, their behavior fits a profile of "suspected terrorist." U.S. officials have said that these "signature strikes" increase the risk of killing civilians, as well as the risk of killing people who have no dispute with the United States. Law professor Bruce Ackerman has argued that such strikes in Yemen are not legal under the 2001 AUMF, contrary to Brennan's claims.
Urge John Brennan to tell the whole truth about CIA drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan by signing our petition. We will hand-deliver the petition when Brennan speaks at the Fordham University commencement in New York City on May 19.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/brennan-petition

What Did We Get for 381 U.S Dead Since the Death of bin Laden?
According to icasualties.org, 381 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Osama bin Laden was killed a year ago on May 2, 2011. How much safer are we as a result of that sacrifice? Can we say that the increase in safety justified the sacrifice? If by May 2, 2013, another 381 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, will we be able to say that the sacrifice was justified?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/obama-afghanistan-_b_1470191.html

Text of Obama's speech in Afghanistan
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/world/asia/text-obamas-speech-in-afghanistan.html

Text of the U.S.-Afghanistan agreement
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/2012.06.01u.s.-afghanistanspasignedtext.pdf

CEPR: New Paper Examines Ecuador's Success in Emerging from Economic Recession; Reducing Poverty and Unemployment
A new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows that Ecuador has experienced strong progress in key economic, social and health indicators since 2007, with a dramatic rebound from the global recession since 2009.
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/press-releases/press-releases/new-paper-examines-ecuadors-success-in-emerging-from-economic-recession-reducing-poverty-and-unemployment

Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control - highlights
A final statement from the summit is here:
http://droneswatch.org/2012/04/29/drone-summit-statement/
Presentation by Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: "Border control: US reporting of civilian drone strike casualties"
http://privacysos.org/sites/all/files/TBIJWashingtonfinal.pdf
Jeremy Scahill's piece in the Nation on the Yemeni journalist imprisoned for reporting on U.S. strikes in Yemen (the journalist's lawyer attended the conference):
http://www.thenation.com/article/166757/why-president-obama-keeping-journalist-prison-yemen

II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The willingness of IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, as well as the most recently retired heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet security services, to publicly challenge Netanyahu's assessments of the Iran threat effectively pull the rug out from under the hawkish Iran posture adopted by the Prime Minister and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, at the very moment when Israel's political leaders have been ratcheting up political pressure on the Obama Administration to maintain a hard line when negotiating with Iran, writes Tony Karon for Time. That's precisely the sort of the political cover President Obama will need if he's to achieve a breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, whose realistic best-case outcome is likely to fall short of the demands long articulated by Netanyahu, and which is likely to be challenged on Capitol Hill as putting Israel at risk.

2) Former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni resigned from the Knesset, warning in her resignation address that Israel's leaders are putting the country's existence at risk by choosing to ignore the mounting impatience on the part of the international community, Haaretz reports.

3) White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan characterized civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes as "exceedingly rare," NBC reports. But a new analysis by the New America Foundation estimates that more than 300 civilians have been killed by drones since Obama took office. NAF says about 17 percent of those who have been killed by drones since the program effectively began in 2004 were "non-militants," and estimated that the "non-military fatality rate" has dropped to about 13 percent under Obama. [14.4% is the frequency of days in the year which are Sundays, and 16.7% is the frequency with which a fair six-sided die will roll a six, so it would be interesting to know what Brennan's definition of "exceedingly rare" is - JFP.]

4) The Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike has sparked wider Palestinian protests, CNN reports. Bilal Diab, 27, and Tha'er Halahlah, 33, became the faces of the protests as they entered the 64th day of a hunger strike while in Israeli custody. In the past two weeks, 1,500 other Palestinian prisoners in Israel have followed their example. Diab, Halahlah and nine other administrative detainees have been moved from Israeli prisons to a civilian hospital where their health is deteriorating, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Society, a group advocating for prisoners' rights.

5) Former IDF Intelligence head Shlomo Gazit said Iran would possibly accelerate its nuclear weapons program after a future Israeli military strike, the Jerusalem Post reports. He said he agreed with former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin that an Israeli attack would not destroy the program, and could even accelerate it, while enabling Iran to legitimize its efforts diplomatically.

Iran
6) Iran said it would seek an end to sanctions over its nuclear activities at talks with big powers later this month and accused France of helping Israel develop "inhumane nuclear weapons," Reuters reports. France built in the 1950s an Israeli reactor in the southern desert town of Dimona, a complex widely believed to have produced atomic bombs.

Israel/Palestine
7) The Obama administration is trying to delay the establishment of a panel appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank until after the U.S. presidential election, Haaretz reports.

Mexico
8) The Mexican border town of Mexicali is making a push for more tourists from the American Southwest to visit that city's dentists, surgeons and doctors, KNAU reports. Medical tourists from the U.S. with the right documents will be able to skip much of the wait on the Mexican side of the border by using a new designated medical tourism lane. Mexicali's tourism director says the new lane is one part of the city's plan to boost medical tourism by 50 percent. "Unbelievable," said Walt Michaels, a 62-year old patient who was returning to Las Vegas after consulting with an eye doctor in Mexicali. "We just saved ourselves three hours."

Bolivia
9) Bolivia's president Morales said he planned to seize control of the main power grid from a Spanish-owned company, the Guardian reports. Morales chose to press ahead with the move on May Day by ordering troops to occupy the company's installations.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Why Israeli Challenges to Netanyahu on Iran May Help Obama's Nuclear Diplomacy
Tony Karon, Time Magazine, May 1, 2012
http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2012/05/01/why-israeli-challenges-to-netanyahu-on-iran-may-help-obamas-nuclear-diplomacy/

The steady torrent of criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu's Iran rhetoric by some of the most senior figures in Israel's security establishment may be causing consternation within the Prime Minister's office, but it's not necessarily bad news for the Obama Administration. That's because the willingness of the Israeli Defense Force's chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, as well as the most recently retired heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet security services, to publicly challenge Netanyahu's assessments of the Iran threat effectively pull the rug out from under the hawkish Iran posture adopted by the Prime Minister and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, at the very moment when Israel's political leaders have been ratcheting up political pressure on the Obama Administration to maintain a hard line when negotiating with Iran. And that's precisely the sort of the political cover President Obama will need if he's to achieve a breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, whose realistic best-case outcome is likely to fall short of the bottom-line demands long articulated by Netanyahu, and which is likely to be challenged on Capitol Hill as putting Israel at risk.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has spent the past year challenging Netanyahu's alarmist rhetoric on Iran, saying it exaggerates the threat posed by the Islamic Republic's current nuclear efforts and branding as foolhardy the suggestion that Israel consider starting a war with Iran in response. Then, in an interview last week with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Gantz poked two large holes in the assessment of the Iran threat typically presented by Netanyahu. The Prime Minister likes to tell Israeli and American audiences that Iran is led by irrational religious extremists who are building nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel and can't be reasoned with or deterred because of the suicidal nature of their thinking. But Gantz insisted that Iran is led by rational men, and he added that given the stakes, the pressures at work on them, and the consequences of crossing the threshold towards weapons development (Obama has vowed to take military action if Iran tries to build a bomb), he doubted that Iran would try to use its nuclear program to build weapons. That essentially amounted to the public endorsement, by the head of the Israeli military, of the Obama Administration's assessment that Iran has not actually decided whether to use its capabilities to build a bomb, and that its leaders will make rational choices based on cost-benefit analysis

The dust hadn't yet settled in the furor over Gantz's remarks when the respected former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, Yuval Diskin, piled on and began metaphorically pummeling Netanyahu and Barak. "I have no faith in either the Prime Minister or the Defense Minister," said Diskin. "I am very mistrustful of a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic senses… I've seen them from up close. They're not messiahs, either of them, and they are not people whom I, on a personal level at least, trust to lead the state of Israel into an event of that scale [a war with Iran] and also to extricate Israel from it. I am very worried that they are not the people whom I truly would want to be at the helm when we set out on an endeavor of that sort."

Diskin castigated Netanyahu and Barak for creating an impression that Iran was racing to create a bomb and could only be stopped by Israeli military action, and warned that military action by Israel would more likely accelerate Iran's efforts to build nuclear weapons. The efforts of the securocrats to dial down the Netanyahu-fueled Iran panic in the Israeli public - and, presumably, also in those sections of the American public inclined to take their cue from the Israeli leadership - were reinforced last weekend by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who insisted there was plenty of time for a diplomatic solution with Iran and warned that Netanyahu and Barak's rhetoric was "creating an atmosphere and a momentum that may go out of their control." After all, an Israeli leader consistently telling his public that there's a new Hitler plotting their extermination on the horizon will, eventually, be expected to take action against such a specter.

But there's also momentum on the diplomatic front, of course, with clear interest being expressed both in Western capitals and in Tehran in reaching a compromise that avoids a potentially ruinous war. Iran analysts have noted that the Iranian leadership has put a very positive public spin on the negotiations currently under way, stressing the fact that these reflect an acceptance of Iran's nuclear rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and therefore a victory. That has many analysts concluding that the leadership in Tehran may be preparing its own public for a nuclear compromise.

But the operative word is compromise, which is not the same thing as surrender. There's no sign, despite the most extensive sanctions ever imposed on Iran, that Tehran will simply bow to longstanding Western demands - particularly those that go beyond the requirements of the NPT, such as insisting that Iran forego the right to enrich uranium, even for peaceful purposes. Still, Tehran is signaling that it may be willing to accept new measures that strengthen verifiable international safeguards against it developing nuclear weapons in exchange for Western powers easing sanctions. Thus the willingness of both sides to negotiate on the basis of the NPT and a principle of reciprocity.

While an outcome based on the NPT would compel Iran to display a level of transparency and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency that is has thus far refused to do, it would also require that Western powers be willing to accept an outcome that falls short of the demands by the U.S., France and Israel that Iran forego all enrichment, because even a peaceful enrichment program provides the infrastructure for a potential weapons program should Iran abandon the NPT. Thus, as the Los Angeles Times reported last Friday, "a consensus has gradually emerged among U.S. and other officials that Iran is unlikely to agree to a complete halt in enrichment [of uranium]. Maintaining an unconditional demand that it do so could make it impossible to reach a negotiated deal to stop the country's nuclear program, thereby halting a military attack."

The zero-enrichment demand is plainly a non-starter for Iran and it's not consistent with the NPT, which has been accepted as the framework of the talks. That's why, as the Los Angeles Times reported, Obama Administration officials are moving discreetly towards a position where relinquishing the zero-enrichment demand, with various caveats, could be discussed. "There is a growing recognition that zero-enrichment is not a feasible solution," former U.S. non-proliferation official Mark Fitzpatrick, now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Reuters, in comments published Monday.

While that might be a tough sell in U.S. domestic politics, where the hard line is reinforced by the messages Netanyahu directs at the American public, it may be the only deal on offer. The zero-enrichment demand is not, in fact, a consensus position of the P5+1 group (the Western powers plus Russia and China) which is handling the negotiations. Instead, those talks appear to be focused on an immediate confidence-building deal to end Iran's enrichment to the 20% level, possibly shipping out Iran's stockpile of that uranium enriched to higher levels and making it a shorter process to turn it into weapons-grade materiel. They are also reported to be considering terms on which Iran would accept the "Additional Protocols" of the NPT's Safeguards Agreement, which would, among other things, allow impromptu visits by inspectors to a wider range of facilities. And in exchange for such steps, Iran would expect a reciprocal easing of sanctions.

Should such a compromise prove attainable in talks with Tehran - which is far from clear at this stage - it would likely take time to emerge and would be a tough sell for Obama during an election season in which he'll faces charges of being soft on Iran. Obama will need all the help he can get to create the political space necessary to make an Iran deal. And he may just be getting some of that help from Israeli officials, current and former, who are tamping down the apocalyptic rhetoric of their political leaders.

2) Tzipi Livni quits Knesset, says Israel's leaders put country at existential risk
Former Kadima chief, who lost her party's chair in March to Shaul Mofaz, says she is leaving the Knesset, but cares too much about the State of Israel to retire from public life.
Haaretz, 12:56 01.05.12
http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/tzipi-livni-quits-knesset-says-israel-s-leaders-put-country-at-existential-risk-1.427539

Former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni resigned from the Knesset on Tuesday, warning in her resignation address that Israel's leaders are putting the country's existence at risk by choosing to ignore the mounting impatience on the part of the international community.
[...]
In her speech, Livni warned of an existential threat Israel faced under its current leadership, saying that "Israel is on a volcano, the international clock is ticking, and the existence of a Jewish, democratic state is in mortal danger."

"The real danger is a politics that buries its head in the sand," Livni said, adding that it didn't "take a Shin Bet chief to know that" – an apparent reference to recent comments made by the former chief of the security service Yuval Diskin, critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies on Iran and Middle East peace.
[...]

3) U.S. official acknowledges drone strikes, says civilian deaths 'exceedingly rare'
Michael Isikoff, NBC News, April 30
http://openchannel.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/30/11475659-us-official-acknowledges-drone-strikes-says-civilian-deaths-exceedingly-rare

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan on Monday spoke openly -- and at great length -- about what has long been one of the government's most controversial official secrets: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill suspected terrorists.

In doing so, he became the first U.S. government official to acknowledge that the drone strikes sometimes kill innocent people, though he characterized such deaths as "exceedingly rare." But a new analysis by an independent Washington think tank estimates that more than 300 civilians have been killed by drones since President Barack Obama took office.
[...]
"The United States conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones," said Brennan, in his speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington, D.C., foreign policy think tank.
[...]
One U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NBC News that the speech represents "a pretty big sea change for us" in terms of what officials will now be permitted to talk about. But the official said that while Brennan's speech had been carefully vetted throughout the U.S. intelligence and national security community, there had been no formal declassification of the drone program. "The president can declassify anything he wants," said the official, adding that Brennan – as the representative of the president - can speak about anything his boss wants him to discuss.

Under Obama, there have been an estimated 250 drone strikes in northwest Pakistan that have killed as many as 2,345 people, according to an analysis by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank that closely tracks the program. Such strikes have generated a storm of protest in Pakistan and stepped up demands by the Pakistani government to halt them.

In what he described as an effort to be more open with the American people, Brennan on Monday described an elaborate process under which senior government officials select targets for drone strikes. They must first determine whether a prospective target is a bona fide member of al-Qaida or "associated forces" and poses a "significant threat" to U.S. interests. The "lethal action" strikes are not used for "punishing terrorists for past crimes" or "seeking vengeance." Instead, they are used to "stop plots" and "prevent future attacks," citing as one example, targeting individuals who possess "unique operational skills."

Brennan said the use of drones gives U.S. intelligence agencies the ability to use "laser-like" precision against the terrorists. But he acknowledged that "innocent civilians have been killed in these strikes." He said such instances have been "exceedingly rare, but it has happened.
[...]
That passage of his speech alone was significant. In June 2011, Brennan said that in the previous year of operations in the government's then-unspecified program to eliminate al-Qaida members, "There hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we've been able to develop."
Brennan later changed that statement in response to questions by the New York Times, spurred in part by reports about a May 6 strike in Pakistan that hit a religious school, an adjourning restaurant and a house, killing 18 people. Although 12 militants were allegedly killed, British and Pakistani journalists on the scene reported that six civilians also died in the strike.

In Brennan's adjusted statement last year, he said, "Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq."

Brennan did not give any details on Monday about how rare civilian deaths have been. But according to the analysis by the New America Foundation, which relies heavily on local media and other reports from observers in Pakistan, about 17 percent of those who have been killed by drones since the program effectively began in 2004 were "non-militants." The foundation estimated that the "non-military fatality rate" has since dropped to about 13 percent under Obama – as drone strikes have become more frequent and more precise.

Those numbers translate to 471 civilian deaths, including 309 under Obama.
Human rights groups - who have challenged the administration to be more open about its drone program - were not satisfied with the new details provided by Brennan's speech.

"It is not enough that care is taken to avoid harm to innocent civilians," said Raha Wala, an official with Human Rights First. "Brennan's assertion that any 'member' of al-Qaida or 'associated forces' is legally targetable is wrong. Under the laws of armed conflict, only members of the enemy's armed forces, or those directly participating in hostilities or who perform a continuous combat function, may be targeted."

4) Palestinians protest Israeli detention policy
Kareem Khadder, CNN, 2:46 PM EDT, Tue May 1, 2012
http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/01/world/meast/israel-detention-policy/index.html

Palestinians clashed with the Israeli military Tuesday amid protests over a controversial Israeli detention policy ahead of a related court hearing.

West Bank residents Bilal Diab, 27, and Tha'er Halahlah, 33, have become the faces of the protests as they entered the 64th day of a hunger strike while in Israeli custody. In the past two weeks, 1,500 other Palestinian prisoners in Israel have followed their example, officials say.

The prisoners are protesting Israel's policy of administrative detention, which allows authorities to detain people indefinitely without charge.

Diab and Halahlah will appeal their detention before the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, where they will argue for their freedom because they have not been charged with a crime. They have been in custody for nine months and 22 months, respectively.

A similar appeal to the military court a week ago was rejected, said Jamal Khatib, a lawyer representing the pair. "Both Diab and Halahlah are on their 64th day of hunger strike, and both can die at any given time," Khatib said.

Their protest has stirred unrest.

At the West Bank border crossing between Beitunya and Ofer military prison, Palestinian protesters threw rocks while the Israeli military used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Four people were injured.

Diab, Halahlah and nine other administrative detainees have been moved from Israeli prisons to a civilian hospital where their health is deteriorating, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Society, a group advocating for prisoners' rights.

Diab's brother Bassam, himself a former prisoner, said hunger strikes are the only weapons to end the practice of administrative detention.

Of the more than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, more than 300 are held under administrative detention.
[...]

5) 'Iran may accelerate nuke program if Israel attacks'
Former IDF Intel head Gazit tells 'Post' he agrees with Diskin, attack wouldn't destroy Iran's program, could accelerate it.
Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2012
http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=268345

Iran would possibly accelerate its nuclear weapons program after a future Israeli military strike, former IDF Intelligence head Shlomo Gazit told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Gazit, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, made the comments in response to a question put to him by the Post over recent views aired by former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin, who questioned the effectiveness of an Israeli strike.

The public discourse over a strike largely neglected the likelihood that Iran would resume its program after being attacked, Gazit noted.

He said he agreed with Diskin that an Israeli attack would not destroy the program, and could even accelerate it, while enabling Iran to legitimize its efforts diplomatically.
[...]

Iran
6) Iran says seeks end to sanctions at talks with world powers
Fredrik Dahl and Marcus George, Reuters, Wed May 2, 2012 5:16pm GMT
http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFBRE8410KA20120502

Vienna/Dubai - Iran said on Wednesday it would seek an end to sanctions over its nuclear activities at talks with big powers later this month and it sought to turn the tables on its Western foes by accusing France of helping Israel develop "inhumane nuclear weapons".

An adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the negotiations in Baghdad on May 23 should lead to the lifting of punitive measures on Tehran, Iranian media reported.

The comments reflect a hardening public line in the Islamic Republic that an end to sanctions is vital to the success of the talks. It was also the first time an influential political figure explicitly said he expects progress on the issue. "At the least, our expectation is the lifting of sanctions," Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel was quoted by Iranian media as saying.

However, the United States and its allies have made clear Tehran must take action to allay their concerns about its nuclear ambitions before they can consider relaxing sanctions.
[...]
In Vienna, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh said nuclear weapons have no place in Iran's defence doctrine, and accused "certain" states of double standards and hypocrisy - a clear allusion to Tehran's Western critics.

He zeroed in on France, a pivotal player in tightening sanctions on Iran, accusing it of having assisted Israel in developing nuclear weapons decades ago. The Jewish state is widely reputed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

France, a big exporter of civilian nuclear technology, built in the 1950s an Israeli reactor in the southern desert town of Dimona, a complex widely believed to have produced atomic bombs.

"While certain countries such as France express concerns over peaceful nuclear activities of Iran ... they have spared no effort in helping Israel ... to develop inhumane nuclear weapons," Akhondzadeh said.

"Indeed, France is the founder of Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons programme," he told a meeting convened to discuss the state of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a voluntary 1970 pact.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
7) U.S. pressing UN Human Rights Commissioner to put off West Bank settlements probe
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials believe the aim of Obama administration pressure is to postpone the probe until at least after the presidential elections in November.
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 12:03 02.05.12
http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/u-s-pressing-un-human-rights-commissioner-to-put-off-west-bank-settlements-probe-1.427744

The Obama administration is trying to delay the establishment of a panel appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

A U.S. official conveyed messages to UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in the last few weeks, asking her not to advance the matter in the near future.

According to the text of the decision to establish the panel, it is meant "to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem." However, the UN Human Rights Commissioner has yet to formulate a clear mandate for the panel and has not appointed a chairman or members.

Foreign Ministry officials noted that the U.S. wants to postpone the establishment of the panel to the latest possible date, hoping this will lead to the unofficial burial of the matter. However, the assessment is that it will not be possible to prevent the establishment of the panel, so the aim is therefore to delay it until at least after the U.S. presidential elections in November.

On March 30, a week after the decision by the UN Human Rights Council, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon traveled secretly to Washington to meet with his U.S. counterpart Bill Burns. Ayalon asked for help in thwarting the establishment of the panel and even suggested that the U.S. publicly threaten to quit the UN Human Rights Council if the panel is established.

The Americans did not respond to that threat, as they view membership in the UN Human Rights Council as a central issue in the foreign policy of the Obama administration. However, the Americans agreed to pressure the UN Human Rights Commissioner on the date of the establishment of the panel and the mandate that it will receive.
[...]

Mexico
8) Medical Tourists Can Speed Through U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing
Jude Joffe-Block, KNAU, April 30, 2012
http://www.knau.org/post/medical-tourists-can-speed-through-us-mexico-border-crossing

The Mexican border town of Mexicali is making a push for more tourists from the American Southwest to visit that city's dentists, surgeons and doctors. Starting April 30, medical tourists from the U.S. with the right documents will be able to skip much of the wait on the Mexican side of the border by using a new designated medical tourism lane.

Mexicali's tourism director, Omar Dipp, says the new lane is one part of the city's plan to boost medical tourism by 50 percent.

"So you can drive to Mexicali, take care of your health, and you can only do 20 minutes to cross the border instead of two hours," Dipp said.

Foreign patients will be able to request a pass from Mexican doctors who are participating in the program. That pass, plus a doctor's receipt and foreign license plates, will allow patients access to the special lane. Once in the lane, vehicles are supposed to be able to bypass the traffic on the Mexican side of the border crossing, and cut to nearly the front of the line.

Dipp's office is doing outreach in Arizona, Nevada and California to persuade more residents there to visit Mexicali doctors in an effort to boost economic development in the city.

"The medical tourism income is really widespread; it is not just the income received by the doctors," said Dipp, noting that patients who come to the Mexicali area for affordable medical services also stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, use taxis and attend shows.

A van transporting medical tourists from Las Vegas was the first vehicle to pass through the new medical tourism lane in a special inaugural run at noon on April 29. An employee with Mexicali's tourism board stationed at the border crossing removed the orange cones in front of the designated lane when the van approached, and opened a yellow gate to allow the van to pass. Since the medical lane was empty, the van sailed by the bumper-to-bumper traffic stalled in the two regular lanes.

At the end of the special lane, the tourists waited about 20 minutes to be inspected by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent. "Unbelievable," said Walt Michaels, a 62-year old patient on board who was returning to Las Vegas after consulting with an eye doctor in Mexicali. "We just saved ourselves three hours."

Yet the shortcut only pertains to the wait on the Mexican side, since medical tourists can still be subject to delays from U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. The group from Las Vegas waited more than forty minutes for American agents to complete a secondary inspection.
[...]

Bolivia
9) Bolivia nationalises Spanish-owned power grid
Bolivian troops occupy installations owned by Red Eléctrica, following Argentina's move to nationalise oil company
Phillip Inman, Guardian, Wednesday 2 May 2012 04.53 EDT
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/may/02/bolivia-nationalises-spanish-power-grid

The trend for South American nations to reclaim privatised energy businesses has strengthened after Bolivia's president Evo Morales said he planned to seize control of the main power grid from a Spanish-owned company.

The move is a blow to Red Eléctrica Corporaciión, which has operated most of Bolivia's electricity distribution since the grid was privatised 15 years ago.

It follows Argentina's controversial move last month to take control of the country's oil company, YPF, from the Spanish energy company Repsol, which had a majority interest.
[...]
Morales chose to press ahead with the move on May Day, the international labour day, by ordering troops to occupy the company's installations.

Red Eléctrica is the sole operator of the transmission grid in Spain, and the Spanish government holds a 20% stake in the company.

Morales did not say how much the company would be compensated, but the nationalisation decree says the state would negotiate a compensation fee.

Morales said only $81m (£49.9m) had been invested in Bolivia's power grid since it was privatised in 1997.

The government, meanwhile, "invested $220m in generation and others profited. For that reason, brothers and sisters, we have decided to nationalise electricity transmission," he said.

Argentina president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner also blamed a lack of investment by Repsol for her decision to nationalise the oil companies assets.

Bolivian soldiers peacefully took over the company's offices in the central city of Cochabamba, hanging Bolivia's flag across its entry.
[...]
Two years ago, on May Day, Morales' government took control of most of Bolivia's electrical generation, nationalising its main hydroelectric plants.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, has moved to put energy, water and telecommunications under state control.
[...]
In his first year in office in 2006, Morales announced he was "nationalising" the oil and gas sector. He began extracting concessions from multinational energy companies, renegotiating contracts to give Bolivians greater control of and a bigger share of profits from the natural gas industry, the country's biggest ahead of mining.

In 2008, he used May Day to announce the completion of the nationalisation of Bolivia's leading telecommunications company, Entel, from Telecom Italia.
[...]

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