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JFP 9/5: Lee, Conyers query Iran war cost; new doc from makers of Budrus
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 5 September 2012 - 7:18pm
Just Foreign Policy News, September 5, 2012
Lee, Conyers query Iran war cost; new doc from makers of Budrus
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Don't let the military sabotage peace talks and Bergdahl's release
The generals and their amen corner in Congress are pressing Secretary of State Clinton to declare the Haqqani network, part of the Afghan Taliban, to be a terrorist organization - a move which State Department and White House officials fear could sabotage peace talks with the Taliban and endanger the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban. Urge President Obama and your representatives in Congress to oppose any move to sabotage the peace talks.
Barbara Lee/John Conyers: We Want a Report on Costs of War with Iran
Urge your Rep to sign-on to Rep. Barbara Lee's letter calling for a report on the costs of a potential war with Iran by Friday, Sept 7th. [deadline has been extended.] Current signers include: Lee, Conyers, Rush, Ellison, Woolsey.
New documentary from Just Vision, makers of "Budrus"
"My Neighbourhood": When a Palestinian boy loses half of his home to Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem, he joins his community in a campaign of nonviolent protests. Efforts to put a quick end to the demonstrations are foiled when scores of Israelis choose to stand by the residents' side.
JoAnn Wypijewski: For Julian Assange, Justice Foreclosed
With Assange, the political context is the totalizing immorality of the national security state on a global scale. For disseminating classified materials that exposed war crimes, Assange has been called a terrorist.
1) Congressman Henry Waxman is one of several US politicians voicing concern over the closed-door TPP negotiations and the influence that the pharmaceutical industry is thought to be exerting on the process through US trade representatives, Nature reports. "In many parts of the world, access to generic drugs means the difference between life and death," says Waxman.
According to previously leaked documents, countries would be pressed to award new patents for off-patent drugs that have been formulated in a new way or approved for a new set of patients. This practice restricts access to medicines in poor countries because it extends patent monopolies. According to MSF, countries that have rejected patents on new formulations of the off-patent HIV drug Abacavir now sell generic versions for as little as $139 per person per year, whereas in Malaysia paediatric Abacavir costs $1,200 per child per year, because the country granted the new formulation a patent.
2) Leaked versions of the TPP would require the signatory countries to permit the patenting of plants and animals as well as diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods of treatment of humans or animals, the ACLU says. Current U.S. law forbids the enforcement of surgical patents against medical practitioners for good reason. We do not want doctors wondering if they'll be risking a patent infringement suit every time they want to try a new surgical technique.
USTR recently rebuffed a request from the staff director on the Senate Finance Committee's international trade subcommittee to review documents pertaining to the negotiations, the ACLU notes.
3) Mitt Romney is the first Republican since 1952 to accept his party's nomination without mentioning war, AP notes. Instead Clint Eastwood won cheers for suggesting invading Afghanistan was a mistake and calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops. The Romney strategy reflects the weak public support for the Afghanistan war, AP says. An AP-GfK poll found in May that 66 percent of voters believe the country should not be involved in Afghanistan anymore. That same poll found that only 37 percent of Republicans backed the war.
4) A search of ten years of the Washington Post uncovered no in-depth reporting on Israeli nuclear capabilities, Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton writes. George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said U.S. sources don't talk about it to protect their careers. "It's like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don't talk about it; you don't criticize Israel, you protect Israel. You don't talk about illegal settlements on the West Bank even though everyone knows they are there."
5) In a television interview, former secretary of state Condoleezza Ricecould not name an area in which Obama had failed on foreign policy, writes the New York Times in an editorial. Romney has tried to sound tough, but it's hard to see how he would act differently from Obama except in ways that are scary - like attacking Iran, or overspending on defense in ways that would not provide extra safety but would hurt the economy. One of the few concrete proposals Romney has made - spending 4 percent of G.D.P. on defense - would weaken the economy severely. Apart from outsourcing his policy to Netanyahu on settlements, it's not clear what Romney would do differently on Israel, the NYT says.
6) The senior commander for Special Operations forces in Afghanistan has suspended training for all new Afghan recruits until the more than 27,000 Afghan troops working with his command can be re-vetted for ties to the insurgency, the Washington Post reports. Attacks on NATO forces by their Afghan colleagues, which have killed 45 troops this year, have forced NATO officials to acknowledge that many of the incidents might have been prevented if existing security measures had been applied, the Post says.
7) Medical experts say the tightening of U.S. banking sanctions against Iran is increasingly hitting vulnerable medical patients as deliveries of medicine and raw materials for Iranian pharmaceutical companies are either stopped or delayed, the Washington Post reports.
Ahmad Ghavidel, head of the Iranian Hemophilia Society, says one young man recently died in southern Iran after an accident when the blood-clotting injection he needed was not available. Hengameh Ebrahim-Zadeh, of the Tehran Province Thalassemia Association says she knows of four deaths in Tehran over the past month that were a result of the shortage of medicine for thalassemia patients.
"The exemption of medicine from sanctions is only in theory," said an importer of medicine. "International banks do not accept Iran's money for fear of facing U.S. punishment."
8) The new IAEA report shows Iran has actually reduced the amount of 20-percent enriched uranium available for any possible "breakout" to weapons grade enrichment over the last three months rather than increasing it, Gareth Porter writes for Inter Press Service. The reduction in the amount of 20-percent enriched uranium in the Iranian stockpile that could be used to enrich to weapons grade is the result of a major acceleration in the fabrication of fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, which needs 20-percent enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes. When 20-percent uranium is used to make fuel plates, it is very difficult to convert it back to a form that can enriched to weapons grade levels.
"Nobody has put out the story that their stockpile is shrinking," said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a leading independent specialist on nuclear weapons policy.
9) Three Yemeni security officials said a U.S. drone strike targeting al Qaeda suspects in Yemen killed 13 civilians, including three women, CNN reports. Families of the victims closed main roads and vowed to retaliate. "I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake," said Nasr Abdullah, an activist in the district of the attack. "This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously."
10) A Bahrain court upheld jail sentences against 20 opposition figures convicted of plotting to overthrow the government, including eight prominent activists facing life in prison, AP reports. The decision is likely to deepen the crisis between Bahrain's Sunni rulers and Shiite-led protesters demanding a greater political voice, AP says. "Bahrain's rulers have not shown that these men committed any criminal offense other than to call and demonstrate peacefully for a change of government," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.
11) UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament that London had fully addressed Quito's concerns about Assange's human rights and fears of onward extradition, AFP reports, because Britain would not agree to Assange's extradition from Sweden if he faced the death penalty in the US. But a spokesman for Ecuador said Hague's statement had not assuaged their fears. "What the UK government have failed to address over the last three months, including today, is the inhumane treatment that Mr Assange would face were he to be extradited to the USA," said the spokesman. "The Ecuadorian government would welcome cast iron guarantees from the UK government that will make sure that the fate that has befallen Bradley Manning will not be meted out to Mr Assange," he added.
1) Trade deal to curb generic-drug use
Tighter patent rules could raise drug costs in poor countries.
Amy Maxmen, Nature, 04 September 2012
"Wanted," the notice reads, in an American old-west style font, "Negotiating text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement." The online advert invites visitors to contribute to a reward payable to the WikiLeaks website should it manage to expose the trade agreement. As Nature went to press, the reward stood at US$24,490.
The tactic, employed by the activist group Just Foreign Policy in Washington DC, may be extreme, but it reflects a broader unease over a negotiation process that the advert says "could affect the health and welfare of billions of people". At issue are industry-friendly rules governing drug patents that could be written into the final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). The provisions could boost drug development and profits for the pharmaceutical industry, but also curb the use of cheaper generic medicines in low- and middle-income nations.
"In many parts of the world, access to generic drugs means the difference between life and death," says US congressman Henry Waxman (Democrat, California). He is one of several US politicians voicing concern over the closed-door TPP negotiations and the influence that the pharmaceutical industry is thought to be exerting on the process through US trade representatives. With the latest round of talks set to begin on 6 September in Leesburg, Virginia, public-health advocates are expressing fears that the outcome will reduce access to medicines.
Besides the United States, ten Pacific countries representing 34% of US trade have so far agreed to join the TPP - Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Canada and Mexico. The agreement, which could come into effect as early as next year, spans several trade areas, meaning that some countries may be tempted to forgo access to generic drugs in exchange for better access to US markets in other industries.
According to previously leaked documents, the TPP looks likely to strengthen patent protection for drugs more than any trade agreement so far. Whereas the current World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement sets a minimum 20-year period for patents around the world, the TPP would follow US practice in extending patents beyond 20 years when the drug-approval process has delayed a drug's market entrance. Partner countries would also be pressed to award new patents for off-patent drugs that have been formulated in a new way or approved for a new set of patients.
This practice restricts access to medicines in poor countries because it extends patent monopolies. For example, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders) in Geneva, Switzerland, countries that have rejected patents on new formulations of the off-patent HIV drug Abacavir now sell generic versions for as little as $139 per person per year, whereas in Malaysia paediatric Abacavir costs $1,200 per child per year, because the country granted the new formulation a patent.
The negotiators are considering special protections for biologic drugs - those based on large biological molecules. One possibility under discussion would grant companies a 12-year period of exclusivity on clinical-trial data related to the biologics they develop. Makers of equivalents of small-molecule drugs rely on such data when they seek government approval for their products. Without access to the data, the generics company would have to repeat the costly clinical trials or delay the time-consuming approval process for its product by 12 years.
More generally, stronger patent provisions would harm small, domestic manufacturers of generic drugs in Malaysia and Vietnam, says Shawn Brown, formerly vice-president for international affairs and state government at the Generic Pharmaceutical Association based in Washington DC. They would also cut sales for larger generics manufacturers in the United States, Australia and Canada that supply low-cost drugs to the world.
Some countries whose governments purchase drugs with a set budget are also alarmed by signs that the TPP may grant new negotiating powers to the industry. In New Zealand, for example, a government agency called Pharmac determines whether the benefits of a new drug warrant the cost, or if the country is better off sticking with a cheaper alternative. A leaked TPP provision would empower drug companies to appeal such decisions. "We have good processes for ensuring what is for the good of our population, not for the good of lobby groups, and I don't see why they need to interfere with that," says Marilyn Head, a policy analyst at the New Zealand Nurses Organisation in Wellington, who adds: "Bugger off, quite frankly."
2) The Biggest Threat to Free Speech and Intellectual Property That You've Never Heard Of
Sandra Fulton, ACLU, 08/29/2012
As we have seen in the failed attempts of SOPA/PIPA, and the floundering Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, intellectual property ("IP") laws are often poorly constructed, hastily proposed and ultimately both ineffective and potentially abusive.
Now, the latest threat to free speech in guise of IP reform is a multilateral trade agreement currently being negotiated (in secret) by the Office of the United States Trade Representative ("USTR"). That agreement-the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or "TPP"-would reportedly include dramatic changes to intellectual property laws, changes that could potentially permit the patenting of plants, animals, and medical procedures.
And, while some of the proposed changes run contrary to enacted federal law, the USTR is not only pushing for TPP, it is doing its best to avoid congressional oversight. For instance, they recently rebuffed a request from the staff director on the Senate Finance Committee's international trade subcommittee to review documents pertaining to the negotiations. Senator Wyden, chairman of the subcommittee, wrote:
"[M]y office is responsible for conducting oversight over the USTR and trade negotiations. To do that, I asked that my staff obtain the proper security credentials to view the information that USTR keeps confidential and secret. This is material that fully describes what the USTR is seeking in the TPP talks on behalf of the American people and on behalf of Congress. More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing."
USTR later gave in a bit and allowed the Senator himself to view the documents but still refused the staffer's access.
Prominent senators aren't the only ones being kept in the dark. Consumer and advocacy groups are also totally shut out of the negotiations, while certain interested corporations have a preferred seat at the table. As Senator Wyden further explained:
"The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations – like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America – are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement."
Aside from the cloak and dagger nature of the negotiations, some of the most troubling aspects of the TPP are significant expansions of patent protections. While we tend to hear a lot about how IP regulations will affect online content, leaked versions of TPP would require the signatory countries to permit the patenting of plants and animals as well as diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods of treatment of humans or animals-all without explicit limits on enforcement. Current U.S. law forbids the enforcement of surgical patents against medical practitioners for good reason. We do not want doctors wondering if they'll be risking a patent infringement suit every time they want to try a new surgical technique.
3) First since '52: No talk of war in GOP speech
Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012
Washington - With America embroiled in its longest armed conflict, Mitt Romney became the first Republican since 1952 to accept his party's nomination without mentioning war.
Three election cycles after the 2001 terrorist attacks, neither Romney nor his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, had anything to say about terrorism or war while on their party's biggest stage. The only one who did Thursday was actor Clint Eastwood, who won cheers for suggesting invading Afghanistan was a mistake and calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops - a line that might have earned boos and catcalls four years ago.
The Romney strategy reflects the weak public support for the Afghanistan war, fatigue over a decade of terrorism fears and the central role of the economy in the campaign. But it was still a remarkable shift in tone for a party that, even in times of peace, has used the specter of war to call for greater military spending and tough foreign policy.
And although 79,000 troops remain in Afghanistan, public support has eroded for the decade long campaign there. An AP-GfK poll found in May that 66 percent of voters believe the country should not be involved in Afghanistan anymore. That same poll found that only 37 percent of Republicans backed the war.
At no point was the incongruity more apparent than during Eastwood's unscripted speech. The renowned filmmaker suggested that invading Afghanistan was a foolhardy decision and teased Obama for it, even though it began under Bush.
"You thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. You know, I mean, you thought that was something worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how they did there for 10 years," Eastwood said to great laughter.
Then, talking about Obama's schedule for bringing troops home by the end of 2014, Eastwood said the sensible question was, "Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?"
The quip earned him applause and cheers.
4) What about Israel's nuclear weapons?
Patrick B. Pexton, Washington Post, August 31
Readers periodically ask me some variation on this question: "Why does the press follow every jot and tittle of Iran's nuclear program, but we never see any stories about Israel's nuclear weapons capability?"
It's a fair question. Going back 10 years into Post archives, I could not find any in-depth reporting on Israeli nuclear capabilities, although national security writer Walter Pincus has touched on it many times in his articles and columns.
I spoke with several experts in the nuclear and nonproliferation fields , and they say that the lack of reporting on Israel's nuclear weapons is real - and frustrating. There are some obvious reasons for this, and others that are not so obvious.
First, Israel refuses to acknowledge publicly that it has nuclear weapons. The U.S. government also officially does not acknowledge the existence of such a program. Israel's official position, as reiterated by Aaron Sagui, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy here, is that "Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Israel supports a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction following the attainment of peace." The "introduce" language is purposefully vague, but experts say it means that Israel will not openly test a weapon or declare publicly that it has one.
According to Avner Cohen, a professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California who has written two books about this subject, this formulation was born in the mid-1960s in Israel and was the foundation of a still-secret 1969 agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon, reached when the United States became sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.
President John Kennedy vigorously tried to prevent Israel from obtaining the bomb; President Lyndon Johnson did so to a much lesser extent. But once it was a done deal, Nixon and every president since has not pressed Israel to officially disclose its capabilities or to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In return, Israel agrees to keep its nuclear weapons unacknowledged and low-profile.
Because Israel has not signed the treaty, it is under no legal obligation to submit its major nuclear facility at Dimona to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. Iran, in contrast, did sign the treaty and thus agrees to periodic inspections. IAEA inspectors are regularly in Iran, but the core of the current dispute is that Tehran is not letting them have unfettered access to all of the country's nuclear installations.
Furthermore, although Israel has an aggressive media, it still has military censors that can and do prevent publication of material on Israel's nuclear forces. Censorship applies to foreign correspondents working there, too.
Another problem, Cohen said, is that relatively few people have overall knowledge of the Israeli program and no one leaks. Those in the program certainly do not leak; it is a crime to do so. The last time an Israeli insider leaked, in 1986, nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped by Israeli agents in Italy, taken home to trial, convicted and served 18 years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement.
And perhaps most important, Americans don't leak about the Israeli nuclear program either. Cohen said information about Israeli nuclear capabilities is some of the most compartmentalized and secret information the U.S. government holds, far more secret than information about Iran, for example. U.S. nuclear researchers, Cohen said, have been reprimanded by their agencies for talking about it openly.
George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said there are benign and not-so-benign reasons that U.S. officials are so tight-lipped. The United States and Israel are allies and friends. "Do you 'out' your friends?" he asked.
Among the less benign reasons U.S. sources don't leak is that it can hurt your career. Said Perkovich: "It's like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don't talk about it; you don't criticize Israel, you protect Israel. You don't talk about illegal settlements on the West Bank even though everyone knows they are there."
5) Mr. Romney Reinvents History
Editorial, New York Times, August 30, 2012
But no subjects have received less attention, or been treated with less honesty, than foreign affairs and national security - and Mr. Romney's banal speech was no exception.
It's easy to understand why the Republicans have steered clear of these areas. While President Obama is vulnerable on some domestic issues, the Republicans have no purchase on foreign and security policy. In a television interview on Wednesday, Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, could not name an area in which Mr. Obama had failed on foreign policy.
Mitt Romney has tried to sound tough, but it's hard to see how he would act differently from Mr. Obama except in ways that are scary - like attacking Iran, or overspending on defense in ways that would not provide extra safety but would hurt the economy.
Before Thursday night, the big foreign policy speeches were delivered by Senator John McCain and Ms. Rice. Mr. McCain was specific on one thing: Mr. Obama's plan to start pulling out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014 is too rapid. While he does not speak for Mr. Romney, his other ideas were unnerving, like suggesting that the United States should intervene in Syria.
Ms. Rice said the United States has lost its "exceptionalism," but she never gave the slightest clue what she meant by that - a return to President Bush's policy of preventive and unnecessary war?
She and Mr. McCain both invoked the idea of "peace through strength," but one of the few concrete proposals Mr. Romney has made - spending 4 percent of G.D.P. on defense - would weaken the economy severely.
The one alliance on which there is real debate between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama is with Israel. But it is not, as Mr. Romney and his supporters want Americans to believe, about whether Mr. Obama is a supporter of Israel. Every modern president has been, including Mr. Obama. Apart from outsourcing his policy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements, it's not clear what Mr. Romney would do differently.
6) Training suspended for new Afghan recruits
Greg Jaffe and Kevin Sieff, Washington, Post, September 1
Kabul - The senior commander for Special Operations forces in Afghanistan has suspended training for all new Afghan recruits until the more than 27,000 Afghan troops working with his command can be re-vetted for ties to the insurgency.
The move comes as NATO officials struggle to stem the tide of attacks on NATO forces by their Afghan colleagues. The attacks, which have killed 45 troops this year, have forced NATO officials to acknowledge a painful truth: Many of the incidents might have been prevented if existing security measures had been applied correctly.
But numerous military guidelines were not followed - by Afghans or Americans - because of concerns that they might slow the growth of the Afghan army and police, according to NATO officials.
Special Operations officials said that the current process for vetting recruits is effective but that a lack of follow-up has allowed Afghan troops who fell under the sway of the insurgency or grew disillusioned with the Afghan government to remain in the force.
"We have a very good vetting process," a senior Special Operations official said. "What we learned is that you just can't take it for granted. We probably should have had a mechanism to follow up with recruits from the beginning."
In other instances, the vetting process for Afghan soldiers and police was never properly implemented, and NATO officials say they knew it. But they looked the other way, worried that extensive background checks could hinder the recruitment process. Also ignored were requirements that Afghans display proper credentials while on base.
The move last week by Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, who oversees Special Operations forces in Afghanistan,to suspend the training 1,000 new recruits followed the Aug. 17 shooting of two American Special Forces members by a new Afghan Local Police recruit at a small outpost in western Afghanistan.
Officials acknowledge that the character of NATO-Afghan relations varies across the country and that it was always far-fetched to think that a single set of precautions could be universally applied. But the laxity that was for years the norm is no longer acceptable, they say. [Why was it acceptable before? - JFP.]
For a decade, coalition officials watched as Afghan security services overlooked key elements of the vetting process - sometimes for the sake of expediency and sometimes because of corruption.
Many Afghans, even those who were vetted, were never issued official badges, making it impossible to tell who was supposed to have access to any particular facility. In Helmand province, thousands of Afghan police officers lack identification cards, according to U.S. officials.
"For years, there have been thousands of guys without proper identification. Our troops had no way of knowing who they were, or if they picked up their uniform in a bazaar," said a U.S. official, one of several charged with making recommendations on ways to reduce the number of insider attacks.
An acceptance of that flawed system meant that Western troops rarely questioned Afghans on base who lacked credentials. The 15-year-old civilian who shot three Marines in Helmand last month had lived on a U.S. base for weeks, despite not being a member of the security forces.
7) In Iran, sanctions take toll on the sick
Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Washington Post, Tuesday, September 4, 1:37 PM
Tehran - The tightening of U.S. banking sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program has had an impact on all sectors of the economy but is increasingly hitting vulnerable medical patients as deliveries of medicine and raw materials for Iranian pharmaceutical companies are either stopped or delayed, according to medical experts.
The effect, the experts say, is being felt by cancer patients and those being treated for complex disorders such as hemophilia, multiple sclerosis and thalassemia, as well as transplant and kidney dialysis patients, none of whom can afford interruptions or delays in medical supplies.
Milad, an 8-year-old Iranian boy suffering from severe hemophilia, lives in Kuhdasht, a town 400 miles southwest of Tehran, and relies on injections of a U.S.-made treatment, Feiba, which is no longer available locally in large enough quantities.
His parents took him on the 12-hour bus journey to the capital hoping to find supplies of the vital medicine but were given enough for only two days. The boy is now at risk of losing the use of his right leg and is suffering continuous nose bleeds that could be life-threatening.
"I am really worried. My son's life is at risk," said Afsaneh, his mother. She says she does not know which countries have imposed sanctions on Iran but believes "no human beings can be so brutal to patients."
However, Ahmad Ghavidel, head of the Iranian Hemophilia Society, a nongovernmental organization that assists about 8,000 patients, says access to medicine has become increasingly limited and claims one young man recently died in southern Iran after an accident when the blood-clotting injection he needed was not available.
"This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights," Ghavidel said. "Even a few days of delay can have serious consequences like hemorrhage and disability."
Health analysts say that although the volume of imports affected may be small in percentage terms, the products that are involved are vital for chronic diseases for which domestically produced replacements either do not exist or are not as effective.
Iran's pharmaceutical factories are said by health analysts and medical importers to be dependent on imports from Western countries, as well as China and India, for more than half of their raw materials.
The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has made "the commercial exportation or re-exportation of food and medicine to Iran . . . subject to licensing requirements," while most goods and technologies in other sectors are banned.
However, even those with a license report problems. Importers say that despite resorting to various more expensive financial channels, such as changing from one European bank to another or using middlemen and unofficial transactions, medicine does not arrive on time or in sufficient quantities.
"We hold a license from the OFAC, but our imports have dropped by more than half while we pay much more than before," one importer said. "The exemption of medicine from sanctions is only in theory," said another. "International banks do not accept Iran's money for fear of facing U.S. punishment."
Hengameh Ebrahim-Zadeh, of the Tehran Province Thalassemia Association, an NGO, says patients - estimated to number about 20,000 across the country - now receive enough medicine to cover just a few days of their monthly needs.
She said she knows of four deaths in Tehran over the past month that were a result of the shortage of medicine for thalassemia patients.
Kidney dialysis and transplant patients suffer from similar problems. Daryoush Arman, an adviser to the Iran Charity Association to Support Kidney Patients, an NGO that helps about 65,000 people, said those patients who are prescribed imported medicine by their doctors are struggling. However, he added, "the biggest challenge" lies ahead, as a shortage of dialysis and transplant equipment is likely to worsen.
Many Iranians fear they will face similar shortages for treatments of more common diseases when stocks of medicines are depleted.
But for Afsaneh, Milad's mother, the concern is more immediate as she keeps an eye on her son's leg. "His right leg has become softer since this morning thanks to the injection," she says. "I have to go back to the pharmacy tomorrow to see if I can get more Feiba. Milad's life is bound to Feiba."
8) IAEA Report Shows Iran Reduced Its Breakout Capacity
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Sep 1 2012
Washington - The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report made public Thursday reveals that Iran has actually reduced the amount of 20-percent enriched uranium available for any possible "breakout" to weapons grade enrichment over the last three months rather than increasing it.
Contrary to the impression conveyed by most news media coverage, the report provides new evidence that Iran's enrichment strategy is aimed at enhancing its bargaining position in negotiations with the United States rather than amassing such a breakout capability.
The reduction in the amount of 20-percent enriched uranium in the Iranian stockpile that could be used to enrich to weapons grade is the result of a major acceleration in the fabrication of fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, which needs 20-percent enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes.
That higher level enriched uranium has been the main focus of U.S. diplomatic demands on Iran ever since 2009, on the ground that it represents the greatest threat of an Iranian move to obtain a nuclear weapon capability.
When 20-percent uranium is used to make fuel plates, however, it is very difficult to convert it back to a form that can enriched to weapons grade levels.
When data in the Aug. 30 IAEA report on the "inventory" of 20-percent enriched uranium is collated with comparable data in the May 25 IAEA report, it shows that Iran is further from having a breakout capability than it was three months earlier.
The data in the two reports indicate that Iran increased the total production of 20-percent enriched uranium from 143 kg in May 2012 to 189.4 kg in mid-August. But the total stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium that could be more easily enriched to weapons grade – and which has been the focus of U.S. diplomatic demands on Iran ever since 2009 – fell from 101 kg to 91.4 kg during the quarter.
The reduction in the stockpile available for weapons grade enrichment was the result of the conversion of 53.3 kg of 20-percent enriched uranium into fuel plates – compared with only 43 kg in the previous five months.
Iran was thus creating fuel plates for its medical reactor faster than it was enriching uranium to a 20-percent level.
But although that reduction of the stockpile of enriched uranium of greatest concern to the United States was the real significance of the new report, it was not conveyed by the headlines and leads in news media coverage. Those stories focused instead on the fact that production of 20-percent enriched uranium had increased, and that the number of centrifuges at the underground facility at Fordow had doubled.
"Nobody has put out the story that their stockpile is shrinking," said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a leading independent specialist on nuclear weapons policy, in an interview with IPS.
David Sanger and William Broad of the New York Times asserted in an Aug. 30 story that Iran had "doubled the number of centrifuges installed" at Fordow and had "cleansed" the site where the IAEA believed there had been nuclear weapons development work. The story made no reference to fuel plates or the effective stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium.
9) Suspected U.S. drone strike kills civilians in Yemen, officials say
Hakim Almasmari, CNN, Mon September 3, 2012
Sanaa, Yemen -- A U.S. drone strike targeting al Qaeda suspects in Yemen killed 13 civilians, including three women, three security officials in the restive Middle Eastern country said.
"This was one of the very few times when our target was completely missed. It was a mistake, but we hope it will not hurt our anti-terror efforts in the region," a senior Yemeni Defense Ministry official told CNN. The official asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Families of the victims closed main roads and vowed to retaliate. Hundreds of angry armed gunmen joined them and gave the government a 48-hour deadline to explain the killings, which took place on Sunday.
Eyewitnesses said that families attempted to carry the victims' corpses to the capital, Sanaa, to lay them in front of the residence of newly elected President Abdurabu Hadi, but were sent back by local security forces.
"You want us to stay quiet while our wives and brothers are being killed for no reason. This attack is the real terrorism," said Mansoor al-Maweri, who was near the scene of the strike.
The strike took place near the town of Rada in al-Baitha province on Sunday, Yemeni officials said.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the strike initially targeted two members of al-Thahab clan who lead the terror network's operations in the province. He said the militants were in a vehicle near the one that was hit, and fled unharmed.
Residents are not denying the existence of al Qaeda elements in their region but say that misdirected strikes work in favor of the militant group, helping them recruit new operatives.
"I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake," said Nasr Abdullah, an activist in the district of the attack. "This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously."
10) Bahrain Court Upholds Life Sentences for Activists
Associated Press, September 4, 2012
Manama, Bahrain - A Bahrain court Tuesday upheld jail sentences against 20 opposition figures convicted of plotting to overthrow the Western-allied government, including eight prominent activists facing life in prison.
The decision is likely to deepen the nearly 19-month-long crisis between Bahrain's Sunni rulers and Shiite-led protesters demanding a greater political voice in the strategic Gulf kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The group on trial includes some of the most high-profile leaders. Among the eight sentenced to life is rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who staged a 110-day hunger strike earlier this year in protest. The other 12 have lesser prison terms, ranging from five to 15 years, with seven of them convicted in absentia.
The decision also could intensify street clashes that have occurred nearly nonstop since the Arab Spring-inspired uprising began in February 2011. More than 50 people have been killed in Bahrain's unrest.
Hours after the court announcement, riot police outside the capital, Manama, fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters. Some demonstrators threw firebombs at security forces.
"We totally reject today's verdict, which is clearly not a step toward beginning to solve the issues in Bahrain," said former parliament member Abdul Jalil Khalil, a member of the country's main Shiite political bloc, Al Wefaq.
Shiites represent about 70 percent of Bahrain's more than 500,000 citizens, but complain they face systematic discrimination, such as being excluded from top government and security posts.
Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, said the court ruling "only compounds the travesty of justice that has characterized this case from the beginning."
"Bahrain's rulers have not shown that these men committed any criminal offense other than to call and demonstrate peacefully for a change of government," he said.
The crisis in Bahrain has pushed Washington into a difficult corner. It seeks to keep it crucial security and political bonds with Bahrain's leaders, but has increasingly condemned the ongoing violence and urged the country's rulers to open wide-ranging talks with the opposition.
Bahrain also faces other internal showdowns over jailed activists, including rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab, who is appealing a three-year sentence for allegedly encouraging violence.
The State Department said it was "deeply troubled" by the Rajab verdict last month, and the European Union expressed concern with the sentence.
11) Britain urges fresh talks with Ecuador over Assange
AFP, September 3, 2012
London - Britain wants to resume talks with Ecuador and find a diplomatic solution to the standoff over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as soon as possible, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday. Addressing parliament, Hague also said Assange could not be extradited from Sweden to a third country without Britain's consent, which would not be given if there was a prospect of a death sentence being imposed.
Hague said London had fully addressed Quito's concerns about Assange's human rights and fears of onward extradition. "The suggestion that there would be a risk of a breach of Mr Assange's human rights on extradition to Sweden is completely unfounded," he said. "The suggestion that Mr Assange's human rights would be put at risk by the possibility of onward extradition from Sweden to a third country is also without foundation."
Sweden, under the European Convention on Human Rights, would have to refuse extradition in circumstances that would breach Assange's human rights, and would also be "legally obliged" to seek Britain's consent before any extradition to a non-European Union country. "Our consent may only be given in accordance with the international conventions by which the UK is bound," Hague said in his statement.
Britain could only consent to Assange's onward extradition if it was satisfied that his human rights would be upheld, "and that there was no prospect of a death sentence being imposed or carried out," he said.
A spokesman for the Ecuadorian government in London later said Hague's statement had not assuaged their fears.
"What the UK government have failed to address over the last three months, including today, is the inhumane treatment that Mr Assange would face were he to be extradited to the USA," said the spokesman, according to Britain's Press Association. "The Ecuadorian government would welcome cast iron guarantees from the UK government that will make sure that the fate that has befallen Bradley Manning will not be meted out to Mr Assange," he added.
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