JFP 10/31: US to speak on Bahrain; Barak says Iran program delayed; US yanks SNC backing
Just Foreign Policy News, October 31, 2012
US to speak on Bahrain; Barak says Iran program delayed; US yanks SNC backing
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Push the big TV talks shows to talk about specifics of the drone strike policy
Bob Schieffer responded to our call and asked a question about drone strikes in the presidential debate. Now let's press the big TV talks shows to get into the details of the drone strike policy - like attacks on rescuers. Urge the big TV shows to have the authors of the Stanford/NYU report on as guests.
*Action: FAIR: PBS and Iran's "Nuclear Weapons"
On PBS NewsHour Jeffrey Brown stated that "Iran's nuclear weapons program has been a particular flash point." Also on NewsHour, Ray Suarez referred to efforts to "halt [Iran's]
pursuit of nuclear weapons." Apparently PBS NewsHour didn't get the memo that according to U.S. intelligence, Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program.
Video: Al Jazeera: Iran's hospitals feel pain of sanctions
Difficulties in importing medicine and equipment having adverse affect on health of up to six million patients.
1) The Obama administration is preparing a statement addressing the ongoing crackdown against pro-democracy protests by U.S. ally Bahrain, The Hill reports. The Obama administration has been criticized for not supporting the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain, The Hill notes. But the U.S. is increasingly isolated. Great Britain has criticized Bahrain, despite signing a defense cooperation agreement with the country earlier this month. "A blanket ban of this nature is excessive," Alistair Burt, the British minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said. "Peaceful protest is a democratic right.
2) Israel's defense minister said Israel had interpreted Iran's conversion of some enriched uranium to fuel rods for civilian use as evidence that Iran had delayed ambitions to build a nuclear weapon, the New York Times reports. The Iranian decision, Defense Minister Barak said, "allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by 8 to 10 months."
3) The Obama administration renounced the proclaimed leaders of the Syrian political opposition and said any group seeking to oust President Assad must reject attempts by extremists to "hijack" a legitimate revolution, the Washington Post reports. U.S. officials are fed up with infighting among the SNC leaders and have become convinced that the group does not represent the interests of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria, the Post says.
4) The World Bank's "Doing Business" report encourages governments to erode public-interest protections, including safeguards for unions and workers, writes Michelle Chen for In These Times. Labor groups say the publication effectively gives a statistical justification for leveraging economic aid or investment to pressure countries to privatize, deregulate and undermine unions. The International Trade Union Confederation criticizes the 2013 report's implicit endorsement of policies that slash benefits for laid-off workers, which praises governments for "addressing one of the main factors deterring employers from creating jobs in the formal sector."
Calling the notion that labor standards drag down the economy a "totally lopsided" framework, Peter Bakvis, director of ITUC's Washington Office, said: "To have the World Bank's highest circulation publication present this very unilateral view, which is not based on evidence, that countries that do away with labor regulations will get more investment and more growth, is very harmful."
5) Some analysts fear the influence of Sunni extremists in Lebanon is increasing, the Washington Post reports. Some cite the appearance of Al Qaeda flags in Sunni neighborhoods as a sign of the trend. Others say the flag lacks the same meaning it has elsewhere, noting a widely circulated photograph of a skimpily dressed woman trailing the black Islamic flag through a recent demonstration as evidence that Lebanese Sunnis don't take seriously the ideology with which it is associated.
6) Taliban attacks in previously peaceful Bamian province has added to the sense that nowhere in Afghanistan can be considered safe, the New York Times reports. By contesting the roads into Bamian, the insurgents have added to the sense of encirclement of Kabul, the Times says. Roads a few hours from Kabul are now nearly impassable for foreigners and dangerous for most Afghans.
7) Palestinians are launching a last-minute diplomatic offensive to a series of European countries to vote in favor of their partial statehood bid at the UN, AP reports. Palestinian envoys were dispatched to Germany, Austria, the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Palestinians say they intend to ask the U.N. General Assembly to vote on the matter on either Nov. 15 or Nov. 29. Passage of the vote is assured in the assembly, but Palestinians are specifically seeking European support, giving the move more diplomatic weight. Palestinians hope to use upgraded status to join additional U.N. bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, where they could attempt to prosecute Israel.
8) The recent election in Venezuela offers an opportunity to improve the US-Venezuela relationship, writes former Rep. Bill Delahunt in the Boston Globe. In contrast with elections past, once the election authorities announced the results, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles rapidly conceded defeat, and he quickly scolded "radical" opposition supporters who insisted on alleging that fraud had taken place, despite no evidence to support their claims, Delahunt notes. Chávez also behaved gracefully, calling Capriles the following day to express his willingness to work together to mitigate the polarization that divided Venezuelans. The U.S. should respect this outcome and seek to improve relations in areas where we can agree, Delahunt writes: the Venezuelan government is prepared to respond favorably to such an initiative.
9) Human rights groups said torture cases in Mexico have increased by 500 percent in the past six years as President Calderon's administration has battled drug traffickers, EFE reports. "Torture continues to be a tool constantly used by the security forces," National Network of Civilian Human Rights Organizations spokeswoman Agnieszka Raczynska said.
1) US to break silence over Bahrain's crackdown on pro-democracy protests
Julian Pecquet, The Hill, 10/31/12 11:21 AM ET
The Obama administration is preparing a statement addressing the ongoing crackdown against pro-democracy protests by U.S. ally Bahrain amid increasing international condemnation, a State Department official told The Hill on Wednesday.
The Persian Gulf kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, banned all public demonstrations on Tuesday. It also threatened legal action against protest supporters amid intensifying complaints of discrimination against the Sunni-ruled country's Shiite majority. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa justified the decision by accusing protesters of fomenting violence and disrupting the economy.
The State Department and the U.S. embassy in Manama have so far declined to comment. The department, by contrast, vocally condemned the death of a Bahraini policeman earlier this month when his patrol came under attack by rioters.
The Obama administration has been criticized for not supporting the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain as it has in other Arab Spring countries. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has declined to challenge President Obama on the issue.
The United States is increasingly isolated, however. Great Britain has criticized Bahrain, despite signing a defense cooperation agreement with the country earlier this month.
"A blanket ban of this nature is excessive," Alistair Burt, the British minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said Tuesday. "Peaceful protest is a democratic right. I hope the Bahraini government will rescind this measure as quickly as possible."
The human-rights group Amnesty International has also weighed in.
"Even in the event of sporadic or isolated violence once an assembly is underway, the authorities cannot simply declare a blanket prohibition on all protests," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the Middle East and North Africa Program deputy director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
"Such a sweeping measure amounts to nothing less than nullifying the rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly. Law enforcement officials must act to protect peaceful protesters rather than using the violent acts of a few as a pretext to restrict or impede the rights of all."
2) Israeli Defense Chief Says Iran Postponed Nuclear Ambitions
Rick Gladstone, New York Times, October 30, 2012
Israel's defense minister said Tuesday that the country had interpreted Iran's conversion of some enriched uranium to fuel rods for civilian use as evidence that Iran had delayed ambitions to build a nuclear weapon.
The assertion, by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, amounted to the first explanation from him as to why he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu softened their position in September over the possibility of a military strike to thwart what they called Iran's drive toward imminent nuclear weapons capability.
Their tough position on Iran, which they consider Israel's most dangerous enemy, had generated tensions with the Obama administration, which has contended that Iran is many months away from the ability to make a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Barak, who was visiting London, was quoted by the newspaper as saying an immediate crisis had been averted this summer because Iran had chosen to use a third of its enriched uranium for use as fuel rods in a medical research reactor. The conversion of that uranium, which was reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency in August, makes it much more difficult to use militarily.
The Iranian decision, Mr. Barak said, "allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by 8 to 10 months."
3) U.S. yanks support for Syrian opposition group, warns of extremist takeover of uprising
Anne Gearan, Washington Post, Wednesday, October 31, 2:01 PM
Zagreb, Croatia - The Obama administration on Wednesday renounced the proclaimed leaders of the Syrian political opposition and said any group seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad must reject attempts by extremists to "hijack" a legitimate revolution.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Syrian National Council, or SNC, should no longer be considered the "visible leader" of the opposition. That made official what has been the increasingly obvious sidelining of an opposition group led mostly by middle-age Syrian expatriates.
"This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have in many instances not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years," Clinton said during a five-nation Balkans tour. "There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today."
The United States has no direct power to anoint the would-be new leaders of Syria, but U.S. backing will be essential for any hopefuls seeking outside financial, diplomatic or possible military assistance. The United States is supporting new opposition leaders who will attend a strategy session in Qatar next week, Clinton said.
Clinton and other U.S. officials are fed up with infighting among the SNC leaders seeking recognition as a shadow government and have become convinced that the group does not represent the interests of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria. It also has little legitimacy among on-the-ground activists and fighters, and has done little to stem the infiltration of Islamist extremists into the opposition forces.
Clinton had some of her strongest words to date about the risk that the uprising against Assad could be overtaken by militants who do not seek a democratic replacement.
"We also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution," Clinton said. "There are disturbing reports of extremists going into Syria and attempting to take over what has been a legitimate revolution against an oppressive regime for their own purposes."
"We made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition," Clinton said. "They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice."
4) World Bank's Anti-Labor Analysis Is a Dirty Business
Michelle Chen, In These Times, Friday Oct 26, 2012 4:50 PM
The World Bank has taken the extremely dubious science of deregulation one step further by creating a guide, known as the Doing Business report, that quantifies the regulatory "burden" that investors may face in various countries. The 2013 report was released this week.
Echoing the corporate "job creator" mythology of the Washington consensus, Doing Business encourages financiers and governments to erode public-interest protections, including safeguards for unions and workers. Labor groups say the publication's warped views on regulation and worker protections effectively gives a statistical justification for leveraging economic aid or investment to pressure countries to privatize, deregulate and undermine unions.
Labor advocates are particularly critical of the section of the report that crystallizes these views, the "Employing Workers Indicator" (EWI) which purports to measure labor policy "as it affects the hiring and redundancy of workers and the rigidity of working hours." Despite the World Bank's past assurances that its analysis of labor regulations won't factor into the main rankings on business friendliness, critics fear that these data nonetheless filter into the report's evaluations, and in turn imply labor laws essentially impede development.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) criticizes the 2013 report's implicit endorsement of policies that slash benefits for laid-off workers, which praises governments for "addressing one of the main factors deterring employers from creating jobs in the formal sector." Similarly, the report chastises some countries in Africa for granting supposedly over-generous severance-pay requirements for displaced workers, while ignoring the fact that severance pay is especially vital for workers in weaker economies because, in contrast to wealthier regions, "state-provided unemployment benefits are practically non-existent."
From an empirical standpoint, the labor analyses in the Employing Workers section has historically invoked fuzzy math. Previous editions have given high marks to governments notorious for hostility to labor rights (what neoliberals call "flexibility"), and criticized other countries, like Brazil and South Korea, for their labor "rigidity," even though they had made significant progress in both poverty reduction and economic development. In recent years, ITUC argues, this skewed rational has been used to support cutbacks on labor protections in Greece, Mozambique, Jordan and other countries. In the current global economic crisis, we're now witnessing the chaotic consequences of earlier waves of deregulation.
In 2009, under pressure from labor advocates such as the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank shifted its stance and declared that the index "should not be used as a basis for policy advice or in any country program documents that outline or evaluate the development strategy or assistance program for a recipient country."
Yet the anti-regulatory sentiment within Doing Business and the EWI continued to inform some policy discussions. For example, according to ITUC's research, Doing Business was cited in a 2010 IMF analysis of Romania, which has been supported by IMF financing, to push the government "to increase working time flexibility and to reduce hiring and firing costs."
Calling the notion that labor standards drag down the economy a "totally lopsided" framework, Peter Bakvis, director of ITUC's Washington Office, told Working In These Times: "To have the World Bank's highest circulation publication present this very unilateral view, which is not based on evidence, that countries that do away with labor regulations will get more investment and more growth, is very harmful." Rather than focusing on further empowering corporations, he added, "The bank should be encouraging countries to adopt policies that share growth as best as possible, that protect workers who are threatened by job loss."
5) Lebanon's Sunnis at risk of radicalization
Liz Sly, Washington Post, Wednesday, October 31, 1:31 AM
Beirut - In the cramped, working-class neighborhood of Tariq al-Jdeideh, Beirut's last pocket of Sunni control, the walls tell the story of a community in the throes of a potentially profound transformation.
Faded portraits of the mainstream Sunni leader Saad Hariri, left over from the last crisis that engulfed Lebanon, are gradually being eclipsed by a newer symbol, the black flag inscribed with the Islamic creed that is often linked to the global al-Qaeda franchise.
The young Sunni fighters who describe themselves as the defenders of the neighborhood disavow affiliations or even sympathies with the extremist organization. Indeed, they say they have no connections to any group at all, including Hariri's Future Movement, ostensibly the largest Sunni political faction in Lebanon.
But the strife that erupted in the wake of the recent assassination of a prominent Sunni intelligence chief exposed some worrying shifts in the allegiances of Lebanon's Sunnis that have been underway in the years since Hezbollah seized control of the streets of mostly Sunni West Beirut in 2008, inflicting a humiliating defeat on Hariri loyalists.
Tariq al-Jdeideh was the only enclave not to be overrun by the Shiite militia, after the Lebanese army intervened to prevent further bloodshed. It remains a flash point, where tempers flare whenever sectarian tensions are stoked, as they were after the killing of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan in a meticulously executed bombing on Oct. 19.
The clashes have since subsided along with concerns that his death, blamed by Sunnis on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would herald a spillover of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, at least for the time being.
The anger remains, however, exacerbating a growing sense of alienation from a political system that many feel has brought Sunnis few rewards.
The dangers were evident on the night of Oct. 21 when the fighting flared. When Hariri sought to calm passions and urged his followers to leave the streets - in a message disseminated on Twitter - they did not, and it took an unusually forceful assertion of authority by the Lebanese army to restore order.
"This was proof that the streets are slipping from Saad Hariri's hands," said another area resident, Iskandar Demaji, a 36-year-old electrician who says he is deeply alarmed by the trends he sees in the neighborhood.
"And what will replace him?" he asked, gesticulating at the black flags fluttering nearby. "Let us not fool ourselves. These are the flags of al-Qaeda, and you are seeing them everywhere."
Indeed, the black Islamic flags seen in Tariq al-Jdeideh are sprouting also in other Sunni towns, including Sidon to the south and Tripoli in the north. Ultra-conservative preachers such as Ahmed Assir, who led his followers in a series of disruptive anti-Shiite demonstrations in Sidon earlier this year and who earned the loudest cheers at Hassan's funeral, are gaining in popularity, encouraged by a region-wide resurgence of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement in the wake of the Arab revolts.
Beirut's traditionally moderate Sunnis, raised in a city renowned for its bars and parties, are not about to embrace extremism in large numbers, said Koteich, citing a widely circulated photograph of a skimpily dressed woman trailing the black Islamic flag through a recent demonstration as evidence that Lebanese Sunnis don't take seriously the ideology with which it is associated. But, he cautioned, "it only takes a minority of extremists to cause a lot of trouble."
Hariri's March 14 coalition now appears headed for another political humiliation that could further alienate his constituency. Its swift calls for the resignation of Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the wake of Hassan's assassination were repudiated not only by most Lebanese but also Hariri's Western allies. The United States has expressed support for Mikati, a Sunni moderate who heads the Hezbollah-aligned government, saying that now is not the time for Lebanon to undergo a potentially destabilizing wrangle over positions.
The ill-conceived and hasty resignation call offered one example of the kind of political missteps that have characterized Hariri's leadership, according to Emile Hokayem, a regional analyst with the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Though the vast majority of Lebanese don't want a war, at a time when the tensions of the conflict in neighboring Syria are aggravating Lebanon's longstanding sectarian tensions, "I worry about miscalculations and mistakes," he said. "That's why I fear Lebanon is headed on a downward trajectory."
6) Taliban Hit Region Seen as 'Safest' for Afghans
Graham Bowley, New York Times, October 30, 2012
Bamian, Afghanistan - The war has finally found Bamian, a remote corner of Afghanistan that for a decade had enjoyed near immunity to Taliban violence.
As the American troop surge peaked over the past two years, Taliban insurgents began contesting parts of this central province, flowing in from more embattled areas of the country. And now, a series of deadly strikes in recent months has intimidated residents and served notice that roads are unsafe and government officials are targets.
That it has happened in Bamian - known for its rugged beauty, nascent skiing industry and the ancient Buddha statues that once kept vigil here - has added to the sense that nowhere in Afghanistan can be considered safe. And that, Afghan and Western analysts say, is a crucial part of the Taliban's strategy in coming here.
"Bamian was the safest province in the country," said Mohammed Natiqi, a Kabul-based military analyst. "The insurgents are trying to find a toehold there by destabilizing it to show their presence all over the country."
Despite years of international military efforts, the Taliban have continued to show that they can drift away from Western forces and carry out attacks elsewhere. And now that the surge is over, and the force of 68,000 American troops is scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2014, the Taliban's resilience has raised stark fears about what will happen next.
By contesting the roads into Bamian, the insurgents have added to the sense of encirclement of the Afghan capital, Kabul. These barren valleys and high passes are just a few hours from Kabul by car, but now the roads are nearly impassable for foreigners and dangerous for most Afghans.
7) Palestinians send envoys to Europe to campaign for UN recognition
Associated Press, Wednesday, October 31, 2:06 PM
Ramallah, West Bank - Palestinians are launching a last-minute diplomatic offensive to a series of European countries to vote in favor of their partial statehood bid at the United Nations, a senior official said Wednesday.
Palestinian envoys were dispatched to Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden and Finland this week, hoping to persuade those countries to vote in favor of giving Palestinians non-member observer status at the U.N. Some of the countries are opposed, and others are undecided.
"We are urging them to vote in favor of the Palestinian proposal," said Palestinian foreign affairs minister Riad Malki said. "We hope this will clarify the picture for those countries."
Palestinians say they intend to ask the U.N.'s General Assembly to vote on the matter on either Nov. 15 or Nov. 29.
The passage of the vote is assured in the 193-member assembly, dominated by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Palestinians are seeking what they call a "quality" majority, where European countries also vote in favor, giving the move more diplomatic weight. Germany and Britain appear cool on the move.
The upgraded status would add weight to Palestinian claims for a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
Palestinians hope to use upgraded status to join additional U.N. bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, where they could attempt to prosecute Israel.
8) A new role for the US and Venezuela
William Delahunt, Boston Globe, October 30, 2012
[Former US Rep. Delahunt is chair of the Venezuela-US Friendship Group.]
The recent election in Venezuela offers an opportunity to improve the US-Venezuela bilateral relationship. On Oc. 7th, President Hugo Chavez was reelected to a new six-year term by a nine point margin. I - along with hundreds of other international witnesses - was duly impressed with the transparency of the electoral process and the enthusiasm of Venezuelans for democracy. Eighty-one percent percent of registered voters went to the polls! This turnout was remarkable when compared to the United States and other "mature" democracies.
Whether or not one agrees with Chávez's policies, there can be no doubt that he won these elections fairly. There are so many checks and balances in the electoral system in Venezuela that there is virtually no room for fraud. The voter registry, the voting machines, the electronic ballot and the data transmission system are all fully audited by representatives of all the different political parties and independent observers.
Former President Jimmy Carter recently called the Venezuelan voting system "the best in the world." He noted that the voting machines print out a paper receipt that voters can look at to verify that their selection was recorded correctly, and poll workers check those receipts against the electronic tally.
I was particularly struck by the atmosphere of peacefulness and mutual respect in the voting centers, where monitors from both pro-government and opposition groups were present. In contrast with elections past, the two main candidates manifested a similar attitude. Once the election authorities announced the results, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles rapidly conceded defeat, and he quickly scolded "radical" opposition supporters who insisted on alleging that fraud had taken place, despite no evidence to support their claims. Chávez also behaved gracefully, calling Capriles the following day to express his willingness to work together to mitigate the polarization that divided Venezuelans.
Most of Venezuela's political leadership - following a tumultuous power struggle, during which a coup d'Etat and violent protests occurred - appear to have accepted to follow the democratic rulebook and be more tolerant of one another. This is an important step forward, and the United States should encourage Venezuelans to continue seeking common ground, rather than support one group over another, as has at times been the case in recent years.
Most importantly, over 55 percent of Venezuelan voters cast their vote in favor of Chávez. The United States should respect this outcome and seek to improve relations in areas where we can agree. Commercial relations between our two countries have generally been excellent, despite political differences, and both countries would greatly benefit from their expansion.
Venezuela will no doubt continue to play a central role in the region's new multilateral cooperation and consultation mechanisms, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Central American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The United States, which has increasingly found itself isolated in regional forums, would do well to find ways to work with these new groups on important issues such as drug trafficking and energy cooperation. Improved relations with Venezuela would greatly facilitate this task.
Our government will certainly have important differences with Venezuela, particularly in the area of international relations. But we can agree to disagree, as we do with many other partners throughout the world. I am convinced that the Venezuelan government is prepared to respond favorably to such an initiative.
9) Torture Cases Surge in Mexico Under Calderon, Rights Groups Say
EFE, October 30, 2012
Mexico City – Torture cases have increased by 500 percent in the past six years as President Felipe Calderon's administration has battled drug traffickers, human rights groups said in a report.
The report, titled "The Torture Situation in Mexico," will be presented on Tuesday to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which oversees compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Mexico signed the treaty in 1986.
"Torture continues to be a tool constantly used by the security forces," National Network of Civilian Human Rights Organizations, or Red TDT, spokeswoman Agnieszka Raczynska said.
The report, which was prepared by the 73 human rights groups that belong to Red TDT and other organizations, expresses "concern" about a "situation aggravated by lack of progress on public policy."
The report cites National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH, figures showing a rise of more than 300 percent in torture complaint cases between 2007 and 2011, as well as cases documented by non-governmental organizations.
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