JFP 5/15: U.S. DEA tied to killings in Honduras; eight civilians dead in Yemen drone strike
Just Foreign Policy News, May 15, 2012
U.S. DEA tied to killings in Honduras; eight civilians dead in Yemen drone strike
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Tell the House: Exit Afghanistan, No War with Iran, End "Signature" Drone Strikes
The National Defense Authorization Act is scheduled to be on the floor Wednesday. Amendments have been submitted to expedite U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, oppose war with Iran, and end "signature" drone strikes. Urge your Rep. to support these amendments. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 1-877-429-0678 and ask to be transferred to your Rep. If you can't call, you can write here:
Kucinich/Conyers amendment to NDAA: Prohibit conduct of drone strikes on unidentified targets
The offices of Rep. Kucinich and Rep. Conyers have submitted an amendment on the National Defense Authorization Act which would bar the military from conducting drone strikes on unidentified targets ("signature strikes.") Peace Action West is backing the amendment.
Project on Defense Alternatives/Cato: New Report Identifies Options for Significant Pentagon Savings in FY13
Analysts from the Project on Defense Alternatives and the Cato Institute release Defense Sense, outlining 18 recommendations that achieve $17-20 billion in additional national defense savings in Fiscal Year 2013. The report's recommendations will likely figure in efforts to amend the National Defense Authorization Act. The authors' recommendations include cancellation of the troubled Marine Corps' variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and an additional redeployment of 10,000 troops from Europe with a commensurate reduction in overall end strength. Other savings identified include missile defense, the next generation bomber, the V-22 Osprey, and the Littoral Combat Ship.
Conyers to Rice on UN: Help Alleviate the Haitian Cholera Crisis
The office of Rep. John Conyers is circulating a letter to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice urging UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the cholera crisis in Haiti [a crisis initiated when UN troops brought cholera to Haiti.] Current signers [5/14] include: Conyers, Cohen, Clarke (NY), Moran, Towns, Grijalva, Rush, Lee, Kucinich, Edwards, Stark, Rangel, Brown, Maloney, Schakowsky, Clarke (MI), Waters, Honda, Clay, Lewis (GA), McCollum, Wilson (FL), Capuano, Blumenauer. The Conyers letter was cited in a New York Times editorial. Urge your Rep. to support this letter.
Bill Quigley: Five Reasons Drone Assassinations Are Illegal
Assassination by the US government has been illegal since 1976. UN questions the legality of US drone killings. International law experts condemn US drone killings. Military law of war does not authorize widespread drone killing of civilians. Retired high-ranking military and CIA veterans challenge the legality and efficacy of drone killings.
1) Local officials in Honduras said four people killed in a drug war raid in which U.S DEA. agents participated were not drug traffickers, but civilians, the Honduran newspaper El Tiempo reports. Two of those killed were pregnant women, according to a local official.
2) Palestinians in the West Bank said the prisoners' strike showed standing up to Israel through non-violent resistance can produce results, Reuters reports.
3) Turkey has refused to allow Israel to take part in the NATO summit in Chicago because Israel has not apologized or made compensation for its attack on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Reuters reports.
4) Irish deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore said Ireland may push for the EU to ban goods from Israeli settlements if Israel does not quickly change its settlements policy in Palestinian territories, the Irish Times reports. Gilmore suggested that if there is not a change in Israeli policy by autumn, additional measures should be considered. Gilmore also said Ireland may seek to have certain extremist settlers banned from the EU if they do not stop their violence.
5) Two suspected US drone strikes killed up to 12 civilians in the south of Yemen, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports. Witnesses said civilians who had flocked to the site of the first strike were killed in a second, "follow-up" strike.
6) Three Yemeni security officials said eight civilians were killed in two suspected U.S. drone strikes in southern Yemen, CNN reports. Jaar district residents said civilians were killed after they rushed to the site of the first strike.
7) Gen. James Cartwright, a former commander of US nuclear forces, is adding his voice to those who are calling for a drastic reduction in the number of nuclear warheads below the levels set by agreements with Russia, the New York Times reports.
8) Attorneys for drone strike victims are suing the government of Pakistan for failing to protect Pakistanis from US drone attacks, the Washington Post reports. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of relatives and victims of a March 17, 2011, drone strike in North Waziristan in which fifty people were killed at a gathering of tribal elders. "We would like to know if Pakistan consents or has tacitly approved the drone strikes," said Shahzad Akbar of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says drones have killed between 479 and 821 civilians in 322 drone strikes since 2004.
9) French President Hollande may be forced by military logistics to backtrack on his promise of pulling all French combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, the Washington Post reports. Analysts say it's possible to bring all the troops out by then, but not their expensive equipment.
10) The Obama administration is moving to remove the MEK from the State Department's terrorism list, which could further poison US relations with Iran, the Wall Street Journal reports. U.S. officials said the State Department was looking favorably at delisting MeK if it continued cooperating by vacating a former paramilitary base inside Iraq which the group had used to stage cross-border strikes into Iran.
11) Some Washington Iran hands and legal experts said the decision on whether to remove the MeK from the FTO list does not appear to be imminent, Laura Rozen reports. U.S. lawyers this month told a court that a decision on whether to delist the MeK will be made within 60 days after their former paramilitary base in Iraq has been vacated; there are still 1200 residents of the camp.
12) Oxfam said the US-Colombia FTA will bankrupt small farmers and increase poverty in rural Colombia, writes Colombia Reports. Oxfam's report, presented in conjunction with human rights groups Planeta Paz and the U.S. Office on Colombia, said Colombia's 1.8 million farmers will see their income drop by 16% as a result of the FTA, which takes effect Tuesday.
1) Dead in the Moskitia were not drug traffickers, according to authorities
El Tiempo (Honduras), Monday, May 14, 2012 21:23
[translated from Spanish by Adrienne Pine, Honduras expert and professor of anthropology at American University - JFP.]
Tegucigalpa - The four people who died and four wounded in the anti-drug raid were not drug traffickers, but rather were honest, humble citizens, stated the Congressman from Gracias a Dios, Wood Grawell Maylo; and the mayor of the town of Ahuas, Lucio Baquedano.
The attack occurred in the pre-dawn hours last Friday when a helicopter with Honduran and U.S. police opened fire against a boat in the Río Patuca, in the place known as Paplaya, believing they were drug traffickers. This mishap killed Emerson Martínez and Chalo Brock Wood as well as the women Candelaria Tratt Nelson and Juana Banegas, both of whom were pregnant.
The attack also wounded Hilda Lezama de Eulopio, Wilmer López, Lucio Adán and Melanio Eulopio.
According to the mayor of Ahuas, Lucio Baquedano, the vessel had departed in the pre-dawn hours of last Friday from Barra Patuca heading toward the town of Ahuas to drop off some divers.
Baquedano explained that the people in question on the return trip were passengers and when they were heading upstream in the Río Patuca they passed a motorboat of drug traffickers who were being pursued by helicopter by agents of the National Police and the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States (DEA). "The drug traffickers' motorboat did not have lights on and the passenger boat did, so it was a visible target that the agents could shoot at from their helicopter," he stated.
He said that the drug traffickers abandoned their boat and fled in the direction of Barra Patuca. He stated that as a result of the incident, the furious residents burned down four houses because they believe that the authorities from Ahuas and from the Moskitia called in the helicopter. "These raids were carried out irresponsibly because supposedly the people participating in them are specialists who are going to act against drug traffickers and not against innocent people," added the mayor.
He asserted that they are extremely alarmed because they now live with the both threat of the anti-drug raids that kill innocent people, and the threat of the drug traffickers who want to operate freely. "We request that the case be seriously investigated, because four people died, including two pregnant women," stated Baquedano. For his part, Congressman Wood Grawell Maylo asserted that the police raids are lamentable because they were carried out irresponsibly.
"It was with great indignation that I heard [director of the National Police] Commissioner José Ricardo Ramírez Del Cid say that the raid was a success because two drug traffickers died; in this attack it was humble citizens who died," he said. The Congressman from Gracias a Dios presented a motion yesterday in the National Congress demanding that the facts be clarified, because now they want to make people think that the dead and injured people were drug traffickers, which the Congressman denied. The spokesperson for the Armed Forces, Jeremías Arévalo, stated that the military did not participate in the raid in the Moskitia, since it was a police raid.
The Congressman presented a motion to the full session of Congress demanding that within 15 days, the Armed Forces, Police, and Public Ministry prepare a detailed report of what occurred in the raid.
TIEMPO requested a comment on the events from the U.S. Embassy via email and the press office stated that it would send the request to the appropriate office. By press time there had been no official communication.
2) Palestinian prisoner deal shows non-violence works
Ali Sawafta, Reuters, Tue May 15, 2012 3:03pm BST
Ramallah, West Bank - Standing up to Israel through non-violent resistance can produce encouraging results, Palestinians said on Tuesday, after a prisoner hunger strike produced some Israeli concessions.
The deal under which some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners agreed on Monday to end a month-long fast against Israel's prison policy was struck on the eve of Nakba (catastrophe) Day that marks Israel's founding in a 1948 war when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes.
To some, the hunger strike proved the value of "popular resistance" as favoured by President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah group. But his rivals in the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza said their own confrontational attitude had paid dividends.
Two of the Palestinian prisoners had not eaten for 77 days, raising fears of a backlash if they had died. Under a deal brokered by Egypt, Israel agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners and lift a ban on visits by relatives living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
It also agreed to free those held without trial for six months at a time under so-called "administrative detention" -- unless they are brought to court before their terms end.
Some Palestinians said Israel was used to meeting violence with violence, but less adept at countering non-violent tactics.
"The prime lesson here is that resistance, unity and solidarity can bear fruit for the political movement," said West Bank political analyst Hani Al-Masri. "Resistance, unity and determination can bring about results."
Gaza Strip political analyst Hani Habib called it "a success for the prisoners and an example that should be copied by the politicians," alluding to continued deep divisions between Hamas and Fatah that have split the Palestinian people.
"We should reshape the relationship with Israel, in the sense that we should benefit from steadfastness and defiance. Steadfastness can win positions and gains, regardless of how unequal in power we are in comparison with the occupation."
Top-level contacts "every hour, every moment" helped to resolve the impasse, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "We spared no means and no effort ... and (Abbas) managed to get everyone to intervene including the American administration whom we had contacted," Erekat said.
Anat Litvin of the activist group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said: "The Palestinian inmates proved that a non-violent and just struggle can bring important achievements and raise international awareness."
3) Turkey says Israel not welcome at NATO summit
Reuters, Mon, Apr 23, 2012
Istanbul - Turkey has refused to allow Israel to take part in a NATO summit next month because the Jewish state has not apologized for the 2010 killing of Turkish activists in a raid on a ship taking aid to Palestinians, a Turkish official said on Monday.
Relations between the regional powers deteriorated sharply after Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara aid vessel in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists.
Last September, Turkey expelled Israel's envoy and froze military cooperation after a U.N. report on the raid failed to prompt an apology from Israel.
"We did not give our consent on that issue," a Turkish official told Reuters when asked if Turkey was blocking Israel's participation in a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21.
He said Turkey was still seeking an official apology and compensation for the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid.
"NATO is an alliance and even though Israel is not a member its attendance means ... positive dialogue with NATO and all its members and without sorting this issue out we deem it not appropriate for Israel to be around," the official said.
Turkish media reported that some NATO members had sought Israel's participation in the summit as part of the alliance's partnership cooperation program, designed to strengthen relations with non-member countries.
4) State may seek boycott of goods from Israeli settlements
Arthur Beesley and Mark Weiss, The Irish Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Brussels/Jerusalem - Tánaiste [~"deputy prime minister" - JFP] Eamon Gilmore has said Ireland may push for the EU to ban goods from Israeli settlements if Israel does not quickly change its settlements policy in Palestinian territories.
Mr Gilmore has also said the Government may seek to have certain extremist settlers banned from the EU if they do not stop their violence in settlement areas.
The Tánaiste was speaking in Brussels after EU foreign ministers unanimously agreed to issue a communique saying the settlements threaten to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict impossible. The ministers decried "the marked acceleration of settlement construction" following a 2010 moratorium, and criticised evictions and demolitions in east Jerusalem. "It's a very strong statement, particularly in relation to the illegal settlements on the West Bank, which are making the achievement of a two-state solution in the Middle East impossible," Mr Gilmore said.
The ministers will receive a report examining Israel's response in the early autumn.
"I think at that stage if there isn't a change in Israeli policy in relation to settlements in particular, I think we may have to look at some additional measures," the Tánaiste said.
"I think we may have to look at the question of banning products from settlement areas into the EU. We have always resisted the idea of boycotts in relation to Israel. But I think a distinction has to be drawn here between Israel and the settlements."
Mr Gilmore said he spoke for the Government on these points. Asked if he thought Ireland's presidency of the EU next year would provide a platform to advance the Government's case, he said: "I do, yes." '
5) Suspected drone strikes kill 12 civilians in Yemen
Jack Serle, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, May 15th, 2012
Two suspected US drone strikes have killed up to 12 civilians in the south of Yemen.
Reports vary but between 14 and 15 people have been killed in a double air strike on the southern city of Jaar. Of these, as many as a dozen are being reported as civilians. Up to 21 civilians have also been reported injured.
Witnesses said the first strike targeted alleged militants meeting in a house. Civilians who had flocked to the impact site were killed in a follow-up strike. Although the attack is unconfirmed, if accurate this tactic would echo the grim hallmarks of US drone tactics in Pakistan.
Earlier this year the Bureau exposed a CIA practice of 'follow-up' strikes in an investigation with the Sunday Times. On at least a dozen occasions twin strikes killed at least 50 civilians. The civilians died when they rushed to help victims of an initial attack and were hit by a second, follow-up strike.
While the CIA alone is responsible for the American drone campaign in Pakistan both the Agency and US special forces launch attacks with pilotless aircraft in Yemen.
Two to three suspected 'al Qaeda militants' were killed in the double strike which Xinhua initially reported as 'a botched air strike carried out by Yemeni warplanes.' But three Yemeni security officials have since told CNN it was a drone strike.
This is the highest number of civilians killed in a strike in Yemen attributed to the US since 30 died on 14 July 2011 in a strike on a Mudiya police station.
These are the first civilian strike victims reported killed in Yemen since March 30. The Bureau has recorded up to 746 people killed in US strikes in the country since 2002. As many as 117 are civilians, 24 of them children.
6) Two suspected U.S. drone strikes reported in Yemen
Hakim Almasmari, CNN, May 15, 2012
Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed seven al Qaeda militants and eight civilians in the southern part of Yemen on Tuesday, three Yemeni security officials said.
It was the latest of several U.S. strikes in Yemen, which is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, described by U.S. officials as the al Qaeda affiliate that poses the most serious threat to the United States.
At least seven civilians were injured in the Tuesday strikes, the officials said.
Across Yemen, at least 35 people were killed, including 24 militants, officials said.
The United States has increased the pace of airstrikes in Yemen in the last few years. At least 24 of 31 such strikes conducted since 2002 have happened in the last two years, according to the Long War Journal, which analyzes how the U.S. conducts its fight against terrorism.
According to the security officials, one of Tuesday's strikes targeted a militant hideout in Jaar district, a militant stronghold. Another strike targeted a home believed to be harboring militants in the same district.
Three senior al Qaeda leaders were among those killed, the officials said.
Jaar district residents said civilians were killed after they rushed to the site of the first strike.
"Our lives are valueless in the eyes of our government, and that is why civilians are being killed without a crime," resident Ali Abu Abdullah said.
7) Key Retired General Backs Big U.S. Nuclear Cut
Thom Shanker, New York Times, May 15, 2012
Washington - Gen. James E. Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of the United States' nuclear forces, is adding his voice to those who are calling for a drastic reduction in the number of nuclear warheads below the levels set by agreements with Russia.
General Cartwright said that the United States' nuclear deterrence could be guaranteed with a total arsenal of 900 warheads, and with only half of them deployed at any one time. Even those in the field would be taken off hair triggers, requiring 24 to 72 hours for launching, to reduce the chance for accidental war.
That arsenal would be a significant cut from the current agreement to limit Russia and the United States to 1,550 deployed warheads each, down from 2,200, within six years. Under the New Start agreement, thousands more warheads can be kept in storage as a backup force, and the restrictions do not apply to hundreds of short-range nuclear weapons in the American and Russian arsenals.
"The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war," General Cartwright said in an interview. "There is the baggage of significant numbers in reserve. There is the baggage of a nuclear stockpile beyond our needs. What is it we're really trying to deter? Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century."
The proposals are contained in a report to be issued Wednesday by Global Zero, a nuclear policy organization, signed by General Cartwright and several senior national security figures, including Richard Burt, a former chief nuclear arms negotiator; Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska; Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador to Russia; and Gen. John J. Sheehan, who held senior NATO positions before retiring from active duty.
General Cartwright's leading role in the study is expected to give heft to the proposals; he served as the top officer at United States Strategic Command, overseeing the entire nuclear arsenal. The report's proposals also may help shape the election-year debate on national security.
Among the striking Global Zero proposals is one to eliminate outright the fixed, land-based intercontinental nuclear missiles that form one leg of the three-part nuclear arsenal, and instead rely solely on submarines, which are nearly impossible to detect, and long-range bombers, which can be summoned back from an attack should a crisis ease. The proposal calls for 360 warheads deployed aboard submarines and 90 gravity bombs aboard strike aircraft.
Given the low likelihood of a huge cold-war-style nuclear exchange with Russia or China, General Cartwright said, these steep reductions in the American arsenal are necessary if the United States wants credibility to urge restraints on the weapons programs of smaller nuclear powers like India and Pakistan - and on potentially emerging nuclear states like Iran and North Korea.
General Cartwright said that countries like India and Pakistan viewed their weapons more as a shield to protect their sovereignty than as a sword to be used in conflict. They and some potentially emerging nuclear powers ignore Washington's calls for curbing their nuclear aspirations, saying that the United States is guilty of hypocrisy because it maintains a huge arsenal.
8) 2 Pakistani lawsuits pressure government to deal with CIA drone strikes
Michele Langevine Leiby, Washington Post, May 14
Islamabad - Although Pakistan's leaders have complained bitterly about CIA drones targeting militants on their country's soil, they seem powerless to stop them. Now attorneys for drone strike victims want to know why the government has failed to act.
Two cases filed last week raise an uncomfortable point for the Pakistani government: Despite three resolutions by Parliament calling for a halt to the drone attacks, they have not only continued but escalated.
"This is the first time that victims are suing their own government for failing to protect their lives against drone strikes," said Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights.
Akbar filed the lawsuits in the Peshawar High Court on behalf of relatives and victims of a March 17, 2011, drone strike in North Waziristan, in the tribal region near the border with Afghanistan. Fifty people were killed, including members of a traditional tribal jirga. The gathering of tribal elders had convened to resolve a mining dispute, according to the court papers.
The lawsuits call on the government not only to categorize the strikes as war crimes and seek prosecutions, but also to appeal to the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Court of Justice to stop them.
"We would like to know if Pakistan consents or has tacitly approved the drone strikes. Or if they have an agreement with the U.S. government on these drone strikes, and if so, it should be open to judicial scrutiny," Akbar said.
The airstrikes started in 2004. Precise numbers are not available but the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain says drones have killed between 479 and 821 civilians in 322 drone strikes since then.
U.S. officials have said that targeting has improved and collateral damage is minimal. President Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, last month characterized civilian casualties from drone strikes as "exceedingly rare."
9) Hollande, new French president, forced to backtrack on Afghanistan pullout vow
Edward Cody, Washington Post, Tuesday, May 15, 9:23 AM
Paris - Sworn in Tuesday as president of France, Francois Hollande has already been forced by the unforgiving calculus of military logistics to backtrack on his campaign promise to pull all French forces out of Afghanistan by the end of this year.
The pledge was one of the few foreign policy proposals put forth in Hollande's campaign to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy, which centered mostly on economic and other internal French affairs. It marked a one-year acceleration of Sarkozy's schedule, which was already a year ahead of NATO's carefully negotiated timetable calling for a staged pullout through 2014.
Hollande's promise represented a clear-cut difference with the Obama administration. Given the Afghanistan war's unpopularity in Europe, specialists warned, it also carried the danger of encouraging other nations to follow suit at a two-day NATO summit starting Sunday in Chicago.
A number of governments in the 40-nation Afghanistan coalition, faced with growing opposition to a war that does not have a clear end in sight, already have signaled that they want to speed up withdrawals, according to Francois Heisbourg, a veteran military specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. The schedule was decided in November 2010 at a NATO summit in Lisbon.
The new French timetable is likely to be a subject of discussion when Hollande meets President Obama for the first time at breakfast Friday morning at the White House, Hollande's aides have said. The two leaders - and others in the coalition who are looking for an exit - also will have an opportunity to exchange views on Afghanistan and other issues at the Group of Eight summit at Camp David on Friday and Saturday and then at the NATO gathering Sunday and Monday.
Hollande, who has little foreign policy experience, initially pledged to withdraw by year's end all the 3,400 French military personnel deployed in Afghanistan and nearby countries in support of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. But he refined that later to say he would pull out only combatants.
The definition and number of combatants still have to be worked out by the new president and his advisers, said the Defense Ministry spokesman, Col. Thierry Burkhard. Soldiers acting as trainers or carrying out other duties can be assigned to combat at any time, he noted, making the category hard to define with precision.
Since Hollande's initial campaign promise, military specialists have pointed out that it would be next to impossible to transport all combat troops and their equipment back to France by the end of the year. Leaving behind the equipment to be guarded by U.S. or other NATO forces also would be an undesirable solution, they said.
Leaving the equipment in Afghanistan, particularly armored personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery, is an unpalatable solution because much of it is top-of-the-line, new or recently retrofitted with modern electronics and is needed to keep the French military well equipped, Heisbourg said. "If it's just a question of getting the boys out, that's no problem," he said. "Hollande can say with a straight face that he carried out his pledge. But we also want to bring back their stuff, and it's going to take a long time."
10) Iran Exile Group Nears U.S. Rebirth
State Department Is Moving to Take MeK Off Banned List at Risk of Angering Iran
Jay Solomon and Evan Perez, Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2012, 5:17 p.m. ET http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303505504577404473860446952.html
Washington - The Obama administration is moving to remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department's terrorism list, say officials briefed on the talks, in an action that could further poison Washington's relations with Tehran at a time of renewed diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program.
The exile organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK, was originally named as a terrorist entity 15 years ago for its alleged role in assassinating U.S. citizens in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and for allying with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein against Tehran.
The MeK has engaged in an aggressive legal and lobbying campaign in Washington over the past two years to win its removal from the State Department's list. The terrorism designation, which has been in place since 1997, freezes the MeK's assets inside the U.S. and prevents the exile group from fundraising.
Senior U.S. officials said on Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to make any final decision on the MeK's status. But they said the State Department was looking favorably at delisting MeK if it continued cooperating by vacating a former paramilitary base inside Iraq, called Camp Ashraf, which the group had used to stage cross-border strikes into Iran.
The U.S. officials said Mrs. Clinton would make her final decision on the MeK's status no less than 60 days after the last MeK member is relocated from Camp Ashraf to a new transit facility near Baghdad International Airport. The U.S. is working with the United Nations to resettle Camp Ashraf residents in third countries. Roughly 1,200 people remain at the camp from an earlier population of over 3,000.
Western and Iranian diplomats are concerned that the MeK issue could draw serious recriminations from Tehran, which has been fixated on neutralizing the group. Many of Iran's top leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were targets of MeK attacks during the 1980s.
Iran has regularly accused Western countries of hypocrisy for providing shelter to MeK members while criticizing Tehran's support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. "We believe that despite the claims that others make about fighting terrorism, they [Western nations] provide the most support for terrorist groups," Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said last week. "In Europe, the MeK has already been removed from the list of terrorist organizations and they are completely safe to continue their activities."
U.S. officials said that the moves weren't related to coming nuclear talks, but are tied to the MeK's legal challenge to its designation in a Washington appeals court.
A judge ordered the State Department to review the MeK's status nearly two years ago, and congressional rules maintain the process should take only 180 days.
"There is a great deal of animosity among Iranian officialdom toward the MeK. But our delisting has to be done by the facts and the law," said a senior U.S. official. "Any move to delist should not be seen as a sign of our support."
Other officials briefed on the MeK issue said Mrs. Clinton purposefully tied the closing of Camp Ashraf to the designation issue to defuse a thorny diplomatic issue between Washington and Baghdad. The U.S. military had provided security at the camp before pulling its forces from Iraq last year. Baghdad now controls the camp and has threatened to return MeK members to Iran if it isn't swiftly closed.
These officials stressed that Mrs. Clinton could still rule against delisting the MeK due to other information gathered on its role in terrorism. But they acknowledged it would be difficult politically for Mrs. Clinton to maintain the designation after publicly stating the importance of the Camp Ashraf issue.
The Treasury Department has an continuing inquiry into payments made to MeK advocates, for possible violation of sanctions that prohibit financial dealings with terrorist groups. It is unclear how any delisting would affect that probe.
11) Some US Iran hands blindsided by report US may move to delist MEK
Laura Rozen, Back Channel/Al-Monitor, May 15, 2012
A report in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday that the State Department may move to remove a controversial Iranian militant group known as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) from a list of terrorist organizations has startled several people who work on Iran in and out of the U.S. government.
American officials said the issue almost never came up at a late April all-hands Iran conference that included the entire State Department Iran team of almost 40 people working in Washington and as Iran watchers abroad.
The timing of the report– some 10 days ahead of high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran due to be held in Baghdad May 23-also baffled some Iran watchers, leading one to wonder if "someone got to Clinton" –with an agenda to try to scuttle the talks.
But other Washington Iran hands and legal experts said the decision on whether to remove the MeK from the U.S. list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) does not appear to be imminent and noted there are still several moving parts.
"If this story is accurate – and I have no way to know if it is – then it should not have a significant impact on the upcoming talks in Baghdad simply because of the timing," said Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran expert now with the Saban Center on the Middle East at the Brookings Institution.
U.S. lawyers this month told a court that a decision on whether to delist the MeK will be made within 60 days after their former paramilitary base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, has been vacated.
"Since there are still 1200 residents of the camp, it would appear that no decision will be made in the foreseeable future," Maloney noted. "It has taken years to reduce the population from 3000 to 1200, and given the complex security and legal issues at stake for the individual residents, I can only presume it will take months or more to completely vacate the camp."
Some legal experts said the decision may not be a done deal.
The issue "has been under review for a long time," international trade lawyer Douglas Jacobson told me. There's "no certainty it will be done any time soon."
"I have full confidence that everyone involved in that review and decision are fully cognizant of the implications for broader US policy issues, and I genuinely believe that these State Department officials would not be influenced in the least by the false presumption, cultivated by well-paid lobbyists, that the MeK has a useful role to play in Iran today," Brookings' Maloney said.
"There are simply no illusions about the MeK in any corner of the State Department, although unfortunately that is not the case with the Congress," she said.
12) FTA will negatively affect 1.8 million farmers in Colombia: Report
Rosemary Westwood, Colombia Reports, Monday, 14 May 2012 11:12
On the eve of the start of the Colombia – U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the charity Oxfam said Monday the deal will bankrupt small farmers and increase poverty in rural Colombia.
"A significant number of small farm households would see substantial drops in their income as a result of the FTA," the organization claimed in a report presented at a press conference Monday. "This would result in a deeper vulnerability for a population that has already been disproportionately affected by Colombia's internal conflict."
Oxfam's report, presented in conjunction with human rights groups Planeta Paz and the U.S. Office on Colombia, said Colombia's 1.8 million farmers will see their income drop by 16% as a result of the FTA, which takes effect Tuesday.
In an analysis of the small farm economy in Colombia, the report's authors examined expected changes in domestic prices and what those changes could mean for the size and production levels of small farms.
According to the report, the deal with Colombia's leading trade partner will hit the poorest farmers the hardest, arguing that 400,000 of those already making below minimum wage, currently set at $328.08 a month, will lose between 48% to 70% of their income.
To make up for the loss, the report said that farmers are "likely to take up coca cultivation" for illegal armed groups. The other option for farmers will be to "migrate to urban areas to join some 5 million Colombians – over 10 percent of Colombia's total population – who have been forcibly displaced from the countryside over the last 12 years and the great majority of whom live in extreme poverty," it claimed.
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