JFP 5/23: US says to curtail drone strikes; Israel says ready for long war in Syria

Just Foreign Policy News, May 23, 2013
US says to curtail drone strikes; Israel says ready for long war in Syria

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I) Actions and Featured Articles

* Action:
Urge NYT Public Editor to Probe Times Coverage of Syria Chemical Arms Claim
Join Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting in urging the New York Times' Public Editor to investigate whether the paper showed appropriate skepticism in reporting on government officials' claims the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, a purported justification for war.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/syria-nyt

*Action: VoteVets.org: Stop the Senate from arming Syrian rebels

"Earlier this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 15-3 in favor of arming and training the Syrian rebels. This is a misguided and dangerous idea. Three Senators voted against the bill in committee, but we need you to send a strong message to the other 97 that you oppose intervention in Syria's civil war."
http://action.votevets.org/page/s/syria

Transcript of Obama's Speech on Drone Policy and Gitmo
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/24/us/politics/transcript-of-obamas-speech-on-drone-policy.html

*Action: Jewish Voice for Peace: ask John Kerry to demand the release of Israeli conscientious objector Natan Blanc
http://org.salsalabs.com/o/301/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=13468

Statement: Women's Action for New Directions: No to U.S. military action in Syria
http://www.wand.org/2013/05/14/a-special-statement-on-syria/

Summary:

U.S./Top News
1) Obama plans to restrict the use of drone strikes and shift control of them away from the C.I.A. to the military, the New York Times reports.

A new classified policy guidance signed by Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Times says. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists. Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose "a continuing, imminent threat to Americans" and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Holder said in a letter to Congress, suggesting threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted.

The standard could signal an end to "signature strikes," or attacks on groups of unknown men based only on their presumed status as members of Al Qaeda or some other enemy group - an approach that administration critics say has resulted in many civilian casualties, the Times says.

2) The number of drone strikes has been in decline, the New York Times reports. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year's rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.

Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and Brookings Institution scholar, said there were many reasons for the declining number of strikes in Pakistan. "But a growing awareness of the cost of drone strikes in U.S.-Pakistan relations is probably at the top of the list," Riedel said.

In Yemen, strikes rose sharply last year, said Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal. The numbers have declined since, and there were no strikes at all in Yemen in February or March. Roggio said a growing chorus of criticism - including a young Yemeni journalist who passionately criticized the strikes at a recent Senate hearing - may be influencing American policy. "I get the sense that the microscope on the program is leading to greater selectivity in ordering strikes," he said.

3) The Pentagon is learning to live with the automatic budget cuts its leaders had warned would threaten national security if they took effect, writes James Rosen for McClatchy. "The generals are reluctant to speak publicly about it, but there have been no detrimental effects on mission-critical capabilities," retired Army Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, an analyst with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington who speaks regularly with top military officers and civilian Pentagon leaders, told McClatchy.

A little-noticed provision, contained in the stopgap funding bill that Congress passed in March, gave the Pentagon more flexibility than other federal agencies in applying its $42 billion share of the automatic cuts through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. While other agencies must apply the cuts equally across all programs, the Pentagon may transfer funds among programs in order to take into account critical national security tasks.

U.S. defense spending makes up 38 percent of all such spending in the world, with the Pentagon still getting as much funding as the militaries of the next 16 nations combined, McClatchy notes. "This statistic is true and won't change much in the coming years," Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said last month. "It's also worth noting that most of the rest of the money that the world spends on defense is spent by countries that are allies and friends of the United States."

Six prominent research centers from across the political spectrum have released reports in recent months recommending significant reductions in Pentagon spending over the next decade, with the average cut at $510 billion.

4) U.S. bankers and insurers are trying to use trade deals, which can trump existing legislation, to weaken parts of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, Bloomberg reports. Senator Elizabeth Warren said in a May 7 statement that there are "growing murmurs" about Wall Street's efforts to "do quietly through trade agreements what they can't get done in public view with the lights on and people watching."

5) A report on drug policy in the Americas by the Organization of American States suggests that the legalization of marijuana be considered among a range of ideas to reassess how the drug war is carried out, the New York Times reports. Some interpreted the inclusion of decriminalization as a thumb in the eye to the US, the country with the heaviest drug consumption and one that has spent several billion dollars on drug interdiction in the Americas, only to find that marijuana and cocaine continue to flow heavily and that violence has surged in Mexico and Central America as the drugs move north.

The report comes two weeks before an O.A.S. meeting in Guatemala, whose president has been open to legalizing marijuana and where the central topic is drug policy in the hemisphere, the Times notes. Uruguay's president has put forward a plan for the government to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana.

Iran/Syria
6) Iran said it's willing to attend an upcoming peace conference on Syria, arguing all influential parties must be included in the process for it to be a success, AFP reports. Russia has requested that Iran be included in the talks. "We must not exclude such a country as Iran from this process due to geopolitical preferences. It is after all a very important outside player," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. His call was rejected by France, with its foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot saying: "We do not want Iran... Regional stability is at stake and we cannot see how a country (Iran) that threatens this stability can participate in this conference."

Israel/Syria
7) Israel's air force chief said Israel is prepared to attack Syria to prevent advanced weapons reaching jihadi rebels or Hezbollah in Lebanon if President Assad is toppled, Reuters reports. Israelis would be mistaken to anticipate a repeat of their lopsided recent clashes with Palestinian guerrillas in Gaza, or their 2006 war with Hezbollah in south Lebanon, Major-General Amir Eshel told Reuters. "People are looking for a knock-out, for things to be surgical and sterile, but they won't be. The homefront will be hit, no matter how much we defend it," he said. "If we go to war in the north, we can win, without a doubt, but it will be something entirely new. No one should say, 'Guys, we are fighting without pressure, so we will finish this story in two months.'"

Pakistan
8) A few days after Obama's first inaugural address, a CIA drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi's home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members and severely injuring Fahim, writes Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar in an op-ed in the New York Times. Fahim was just 13 years old and left with only one eye, and shrapnel in his stomach. There was no militant present, Shahzad writes. A recent book revealed that Obama was informed about the erroneous target but still did not offer any form of redress.

Sadaullah Wazir's house in North Waziristan was targeted on Sept. 7, 2009, Shahzad writes. The strike killed four members of Sadaullah's family. Sadaullah was 14 years old when it happened. A few days after the attack, he woke up in a Peshawar hospital to the news that both of his legs had to be amputated and he would never be able to walk again. He died last year, without receiving justice or even an apology. Once again, no militant was present or killed.

Israel/Palestine
9) Israel's coalition government presented a divided front on Palestinian statehood as Secretary of State Kerry prepared a mission to revive long-defunct peace talks, Reuters reports. Appearing before a parliamentary committee, Israeli chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni outlined a vision she said she shared with Prime Minister Netanyahu of an end to the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians. "My policy and that of the prime minister is that a solution of two states for two peoples must be achieved," said Livni.

Far-right members of the government were having none of it. "Two states for two peoples might be Netanyahu's position, but it is not the official government position. It is not part of its basic guidelines," Orit Struck of the Bayit Yehudi party said at the Foreign Affairs and Defence committee session. The party's leader, Naftali Bennett, repeatedly voiced his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Instead, the former Jewish settlement leader said, Israel should annex much of the West Bank.

Honduras
10) Three weeks ago, President Obama told a summit of Central American leaders the US would focus more on supporting education, economic development and poverty reduction and less on a militarized approach to illegal drugs, write Dan Beeton and Alex Main of CEPR at Al Jazeera.

But a year after four Honduran villagers were killed in a DEA counter-narcotics operation, their community is still waiting for justice. The US government has never conducted an independent investigation into the incident, and has obstructed the Honduran investigation by denying the investigators access to either the ten DEA agents involved or their weapons. Nor have Honduran authorities been allowed to examine the heavy-calibre mounted guns on the State Department-owned helicopters used in the operation, which survivors and witnesses claim fired on the victims. Honduran police agents on the scene that day claim DEA agents and a helicopter fired on the villagers' boat. They also claim that the DEA was in charge of the operation.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Obama, in a Shift, to Limit Targets of Drone Strikes
Charlie Savage and Peter Baker, New York Times, May 22, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/us/us-acknowledges-killing-4-americans-in-drone-strikes.html

Washington - President Obama plans to open a new phase in the nation's long struggle with terrorism on Thursday by restricting the use of unmanned drone strikes that have been at the heart of his national security strategy and shifting control of them away from the C.I.A. to the military.

In his first major speech on counterterrorism of his second term, Mr. Obama hopes to refocus the epic conflict that has defined American priorities since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and even foresees an unspecified day when the so-called war on terror might all but end, according to people briefed on White House plans.

As part of the shift in approach, the administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that its actions were justified by the danger to the United States. Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies.

A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists.

Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose "a continuing, imminent threat to Americans" and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted.

The standard could signal an end to "signature strikes," or attacks on groups of unknown men based only on their presumed status as members of Al Qaeda or some other enemy group - an approach that administration critics say has resulted in many civilian casualties. In effect, this appears to be a step away from the less restricted use of force allowed in war zones and toward the more limited use of force for self-defense allowed outside of armed conflict.

In the speech he will give on Thursday at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama will also renew his long-stalled effort to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Officials said they would make a fresh push to transfer detainees to home countries and lift the ban on sending some back to Yemen. The president plans to reappoint a high-level State Department official to oversee the effort to reduce the prison population.
[...]
While Mr. Obama may not explicitly announce the shift in drones from the Central Intelligence Agency in his speech, since the agency's operations remain formally classified, the change underscores a desire by the president and his advisers to balance them with other legal and diplomatic tools. The C.I.A., which has overseen the drone war in the tribal areas of Pakistan and elsewhere, will generally cede its role to the military after a six-month transition period as forces draw down in Afghanistan, officials said.
[...]

2) Debate Aside, Number of Drone Strikes Drops Sharply
Scott Shane, New York Times, May 21, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/us/debate-aside-drone-strikes-drop-sharply.html

Washington - President Obama embraced drone strikes in his first term, and the targeted killing of suspected terrorists has come to define his presidency.

But lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year's rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.
[...]
Current and former officials say the reasons include a shrinking list of important Qaeda targets, a result of the success of past strikes, and transient factors ranging from bad weather to diplomatic strains. But more broadly, the decline may reflect a changing calculation of the long-term costs and benefits of targeted killings.

Obama administration officials have sometimes contrasted the drone program's relative precision, economy and safety for Americans with the huge costs in lives and money of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over time, however, the costs of the drone strikes themselves have become more evident.

Reports of innocent civilians killed by drones - whether real or, as American officials often assert, exaggerated - have shaken the claims of precise targeting. The strikes have become a staple of Qaeda propaganda, cited to support the notion that the United States is at war with Islam. They have been described by convicted terrorists as a motivation for their crimes, including the failed attack on a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the attempted car bombing of Times Square in 2010.

Notably, a growing list of former senior Bush and Obama administration security officials have expressed concern that the short-term gains of drone strikes in eliminating specific militants may be outweighed by long-term strategic costs. Among the cautionary voices are Michael V. Hayden, who as C.I.A. director in 2008 oversaw the first escalation of strikes in Pakistan; Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who commanded American forces in Afghanistan; James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Dennis C. Blair, the former director of national intelligence.

"I think the strikes have been tremendously effective," said Mr. Hayden, a retired Air Force general, who said he was speaking generally and not discussing any particular operation. "But circumstances change. We're in a much safer place than we were before, and maybe it's time to recalibrate."

Mr. Hayden said that through 2008, the "first-order effect of these operations - that a dangerous man is dead" was viewed as so important that other consequences were set aside. But with a diminished terrorist threat, he said, the negative effects of the strikes deserve greater consideration. Among them, he said, were alienating the leadership of countries where the strikes occur; losing intelligence from allies whose laws prohibit support for targeted killings; an eroding political consensus in the United States; and "creating a recruiting poster for Al Qaeda."

One of Mr. Obama's ambitions on taking office was to forge a new, more positive American image in the Muslim world. But the drone strikes, along with the president's failure to carry out his promise to close the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, have helped drive the United States' approval rating to new lows in many Muslim countries. In Pakistan, for instance, 19 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center had a positive view of the United States in the last year of George W. Bush's presidency. By last year, the approval rating had fallen to 12 percent.

"Globally these operations are hated," said Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who wrote a major study of targeted killing this year. "It's the face of American foreign policy, and it's an ugly face."
[...]
Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and Brookings Institution scholar, said there were many reasons for the declining number of strikes in Pakistan. "But a growing awareness of the cost of drone strikes in U.S.-Pakistan relations is probably at the top of the list," Mr. Riedel said. "They are deadly to any hope of reversing the downward slide in ties with the fastest growing nuclear weapons state in the world."

In Yemen, strikes rose sharply last year as the United States supported efforts by Yemeni authorities to reclaim territory taken over by the local Al Qaeda branch and its supporters in the tumultuous aftermath of the Arab Spring, said Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the strikes. The numbers have declined since, and there were no strikes at all in Yemen in February or March.

Mr. Roggio said a growing chorus of criticism - including a young Yemeni journalist who passionately criticized the strikes at a recent Senate hearing - may be influencing American policy. "I get the sense that the microscope on the program is leading to greater selectivity in ordering strikes," he said.

3) Did the Pentagon cry wolf over sequestration?
James Rosen, McClatchy, Wed, May. 22, 2013
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/05/22/191952/did-the-pentagon-cry-wolf-over.html

Washington -- A funny thing happened on the way to a predicted disaster: The Pentagon is learning to live with the automatic budget cuts its leaders had warned would threaten national security if they took effect.

The change from near-hysteria to sober assessment starts at the top with new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former maverick Republican senator from Nebraska who's long pushed for serious restructuring of military spending. He replaced Leon Panetta in February.

Defense analysts say the forced spending reductions – called a sequester on Capitol Hill – and the arrival of a new Pentagon chief are compelling military leaders to focus on core national security needs and to operate more efficiently after the expenditure of what will reach $5 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and a near doubling of the overall defense budget from 2001 to 2011.

"Things have settled down since the sequester started," retired Army Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, an analyst with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington who speaks regularly with top military officers and civilian Pentagon leaders, told McClatchy.

"They're looking at how, with a lower budget, to maintain real focus on real threats," Shaffer said. "The generals are reluctant to speak publicly about it, but there have been no detrimental effects on mission-critical capabilities."Among the core capabilities that Shaffer said remain unharmed are a broad range of global exercises and deployments involving carrier battle groups and military training teams; military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere that the Pentagon classifies as "critical" or "sensitive"; and military schools and combat training.

A little-noticed provision, contained in the stopgap funding bill that Congress passed in March, gave the Pentagon more flexibility than other federal agencies in applying its $42 billion share of the automatic cuts through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

While other agencies must apply the cuts equally across all programs, the Pentagon may transfer funds among programs in order to take into account critical national security tasks.
[...]
The biggest resistance to Pentagon downsizing may come not from the military, but from Congress.

Many lawmakers oppose trimming or jettisoning expensive new weapons systems such as the problem-plagued F-35 fighter jet, despite recommendations to do so from a broad range of defense experts, because the mammoth projects create jobs in their congressional districts. For similar reasons, a number of lawmakers reject two more rounds of base closures as urged by Hagel and his top commanders.

But with Hagel's arrival, there's growing recognition at the Pentagon that the post-Sept. 11, 2001, funding boom can't be sustained.
[...]
Last month, after replacing Panetta as defense secretary and with the forced reductions in place, Hagel spoke in more restrained tones as he ordered a top-to-bottom review of the Pentagon.

"Everything will be on the table during this review: roles and missions, planning, business practices, force structure, personnel and compensation, acquisition and modernization investments, how we operate, and how we measure and maintain readiness," Hagel said.

Since the forced cuts started, reassurances of continued U.S. military superiority have replaced earlier warnings that, as Panetta put it, the United States would become a "second-rate power" if they took effect. U.S. defense spending makes up 38 percent of all such spending in the world, with the Pentagon still getting as much funding as the militaries of the next 16 nations combined.

"This statistic is true and won't change much in the coming years," Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington last month. "It's also worth noting that most of the rest of the money that the world spends on defense is spent by countries that are allies and friends of the United States."

Six prominent research centers from across the political spectrum have released reports in recent months recommending significant reductions in Pentagon spending over the next decade, with the average cut at $510 billion.

4) Wall Street Seeks Dodd-Frank Changes Through Trade Talks
Carter Dougherty, Bloomberg, May 23, 2013
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-23/wall-street-seeks-dodd-frank-changes-through-trade-talks.html

U.S. bankers and insurers are trying to use trade deals, which can trump existing legislation, to weaken parts of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

While the companies say they are seeking agreements that preserve strong regulations and encourage economic growth, their effort is drawing fire from groups who argue that Wall Street wants to make the trade negotiations a new front in its three-year campaign to stop or alter the law.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who sits on the Banking Committee, said in a May 7 statement that there are "growing murmurs" about Wall Street's efforts to "do quietly through trade agreements what they can't get done in public view with the lights on and people watching."

The U.S. has embarked on three major negotiations aimed at reducing barriers to international commerce, one with the European Union covering most types of trade and investment, and a similar one with Asia-Pacific nations including Japan [i.e., the Trans Pacific Partnership - JFP]. A third set of talks, covering only services, is under way at the World Trade Organization.

The Coalition of Service Industries, a trade association whose website lists Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), American International Group Inc. (AIG) and The Chubb Corp. (CB) as members, told the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in a May 10 letter that "more compatible regulations for services" should be part of the EU deal.
[...]
In the U.S., the president starts negotiations on trade agreements with a general mandate from Congress. After they are signed, the agreements are converted into implementing legislation, which can change regulations if the deal requires. Congress then votes on the proposal, usually under special procedures that bar amendments to the pact's details.

"The trade talks could easily become a Trojan Horse," said Marcus Stanley, the policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, a group that includes labor unions, civil rights organizations and consumer advocates.

In separate letters on the EU and Asia-Pacific pacts, the industry coalition said negotiators should draft rules limiting what regulators can do in the name of protecting financial stability. The letters also urged using the pacts to curb extra-territorial rules that can reach beyond U.S. borders, like ones currently being considered on financial derivatives.

None of the letters specifically mention a desire to change the Dodd-Frank law, the 2010 overhaul of U.S. financial regulation. The law does, however, address many of the issues raised in the letters on the trade agreements.

The coalition called for the U.S.-EU agreement to avoid rules that reach across national boundaries and have an "extra-territorial effect." Allgeier said that suggestion was motivated in part by a fight over regulation of the cross-border swaps market under Dodd-Frank.
[...]
The financial services industry has already invoked international trade rules in its bid to weaken proposed regulations, notably the Volcker rule that would ban proprietary trading. Named after former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the rule is a signature part of Dodd-Frank. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sought a review of the rule by U.S. trade authorities, arguing it violated existing agreements.
[...]

5) Americas Coalition Puts Marijuana Legalization Up for Discussion
Randal C. Archibold, New York Times, May 17, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/18/world/americas/nations-in-americas-urged-to-consider-legalizing-pot.html

Mexico City - A comprehensive report on drug policy in the Americas released Friday by a consortium of nations suggests that the legalization of marijuana, but not other illicit drugs, be considered among a range of ideas to reassess how the drug war is carried out.

The report, released by the Organization of American States walked a careful line in not recommending any single approach to the drug problem and encouraging "flexibility."

Prompted by President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia at the Summit of the Americas last year to answer growing dissatisfaction and calls for new strategies in the drug war, the report's 400 pages mainly summarize and distill previous research and debate on the subject.

But the fact that it gave weight to exploring legalizing or de-penalizing marijuana was seized on by advocates of more liberal drug use laws as a landmark and a potential catalyst for less restrictive laws in a number of countries.

"This takes the debate to a whole other level," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates more liberal drug use laws. "It effectively breaks the taboo on considering alternatives to the current prohibitionist approach."

The report said "the drug problem requires a flexible approach," and "it would be worthwhile to assess existing signals and trends that lean toward the decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale and use of marijuana.
[...]
Some analysts interpreted the inclusion of decriminalization as a thumb in the eye to the United States, the country with the heaviest drug consumption and one that has spent several billion dollars on drug interdiction in the Americas, only to find that marijuana and cocaine continue to flow heavily and that violence has surged in Mexico and Central America as the drugs move north.

The report comes two weeks before an O.A.S. meeting in Guatemala, whose president has been open to legalizing marijuana and where the central topic is drug policy in the hemisphere. Uruguay's president has put forward a plan for the government to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana.
[...]

Iran/Syria
6) Iran wants in on Syria peace conference
AFP, Tue, May 21, 2013
http://en-maktoob.news.yahoo.com/iran-wants-syria-peace-conference-103533777.html

Iran said Tuesday it is willing to attend an upcoming peace conference on Syria, arguing all influential parties must be included in the process for it to be a success. "The condition for success in Geneva is that all countries with influence on events in Syria participate," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi told reporters. "I do not think anyone in the world doubts that one of those countries is the Islamic republic," he added.

The conference -- agreed by the United States and Russia and expected to be held in the first half of June -- seeks to bring together representatives from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels fighting it in a conflict that has reportedly killed more than 90,000 people since it began in March 2011.

Moscow, an ally of Damascus, has requested that Iran be included in the talks. "We must not exclude such a country as Iran from this process due to geopolitical preferences. It is after all a very important outside player," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.

His call was rejected by France, with its foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot saying: "We do not want Iran... Regional stability is at stake and we cannot see how a country (Iran) that threatens this stability can participate in this conference."

Iran, Assad's main regional ally, regards many Syrian opposition groups as "terrorists" backed by Western and Arab countries, but it urges talks to form a national reconciliation committee to end the conflict. Iran did not attend the previous Geneva meeting on the Syrian crisis in June 2012, which called for an immediate ceasefire.

The United States and France had objected to its participation.

Araqchi on Tuesday said the planned Geneva meeting nonetheless was proof Iran's position on dialogue in Syria was correct. "From day one, we have said the only solution is dialogue between the government and the opposition," he said. "The fact that the international community is moving towards this position is a good thing."

Israel/Syria
7) General says Israel ready to attack Syria should Assad fall
Dan Williams, Reuters, May 22
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-22/217989-general-says-israel-ready-to-attack-syria-should-assad-fall.ashx

Herzliya, Israel: Israel is prepared to attack Syria to prevent advanced weapons reaching jihadi rebels or Hezbollah in Lebanon if President Bashar Assad is toppled, Israel's air force chief said on Wednesday.

Major-General Amir Eshel also said Israelis should brace for a protracted and painful conflict should their forces engage in combat with Hezbollah or its main backer, Iran.

"If Syria collapses tomorrow, we will need to take action to prevent a strategic looting of advanced weaponry," he told the Fisher Institute for Air & Space Studies near Tel Aviv. "We have to be ready for any scenario, at a few hours' notice," Eshel said.

He assumed fighting could escalate on to three fronts at once and require the Israeli air force to employ "the full spectrum of its might".

Israeli warplanes have attacked Syria at least three times this year to destroy what intelligence sources described as advanced anti-aircraft and ground-to-ground missile caches in transit to Hezbollah. The Israelis also worry that Assad may lose control of Syria's chemical warheads stocks.

Beset by the more than two-year-old insurgency, Assad has not retaliated for the air strikes. But some Israeli experts worry his forbearance could wear out - especially if he believes new Russian-supplied air defences will let him fend off his militarily superior foe.

Eshel said the most formidable of the Russian systems, the S-300, was "on its way" to Syria and that Israel could not afford to see its air superiority dented given what he predicted would be the need to hit the other side intensively.
[...]
Israelis would be mistaken to anticipate a repeat of their lopsided recent clashes with Palestinian guerrillas in Gaza, or their 2006 war with Hezbollah in south Lebanon, Eshel told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.

"People are looking for a knock-out, for things to be surgical and sterile, but they won't be. The homefront will be hit, no matter how much we defend it," he said, referring to possible missile attacks on the Israeli interior from Syria, Hezbollah and Iran.

"If we go to war in the north, we can win, without a doubt, but it will be something entirely new. No one should say, 'Guys, we are fighting without pressure, so we will finish this story in two months.' It's far more delicate than that."

Pakistan
8) Obama's Forgotten Victims
Mirza Shahzad Akbar, New York Times, May 22, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/opinion/the-forgotten-victims-of-obamas-drone-war.html

[Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer and former special prosecutor for Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau, is co-founder and legal director of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a legal aid organization.]

Islamabad, Pakistan - When Barack Obama ran for president of the United States in 2008, his message of hope and change gave us, the citizens of lesser republics, hope that he would close Guantánamo and shut down programs where extrajudicial killing or bribing foreign heads of state with American taxpayer dollars had become standard practice.

Instead, a few days after his inaugural address, a C.I.A.-operated drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi's home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members and severely injuring Fahim. He was just 13 years old and left with only one eye, and shrapnel in his stomach.

There was no militant present. A recent book revealed that Mr. Obama was informed about the erroneous target but still did not offer any form of redress, because in 2009, the United States did not acknowledge the existence of its own drone program in Pakistan.

Sadaullah Wazir was another victim of hope and change. His house in North Waziristan was targeted on Sept. 7, 2009. The strike killed four members of his family. Sadaullah was 14 years old when it happened. A few days after the attack, he woke up in a Peshawar hospital to the news that both of his legs had to be amputated and he would never be able to walk again. He died last year, without receiving justice or even an apology. Once again, no militant was present or killed.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on drones at the National Defense University today. He is likely to tell his fellow Americans that drones are precise and effective at killing militants.

But his words will be little consolation for 8-year-old Nabila, who, on Oct. 24, had just returned from school and was playing in a field outside her house with her siblings and cousins while her grandmother picked flowers. At 2:30 p.m., a Hellfire missile came out of the sky and struck right in front of Nabila. Her grandmother was badly burned and succumbed to her injuries; Nabila survived with severe burns and shrapnel wounds in her shoulder.

Nabila doesn't know who Mr. Obama is, or where the Hellfire missile that killed her grandmother came from. As she grows older, she will learn about the idea of justice. But how will she be able to grasp it if she herself has been denied this basic right?

The civilian victims of drone strikes have not been let down just by Mr. Obama. Their own government is equally culpable; Pakistan has been complicit in several strikes.

I have brought litigation on behalf of more than 100 civilian victims and their families before the provincial High Court in Peshawar and lower courts in Islamabad, the capital, to demand that the Pakistani government exercise its duty to protect the lives of its citizens.

A growing number of civilian casualties has raised the question of the efficacy of drone strikes in killing militants. Clearly Fahim, Sadaullah and Nabila were not menaces to America who had to be attacked in a brutal and lawless manner. According to the revelations in a recent McClatchy News Service article, the C.I.A. has no idea who is actually being killed in most of the strikes. Despite this acknowledgment, the drone program in Pakistan still continues without any Congressional oversight or accountability.

The burden of accountability is not exclusively on the American side. It is widely believed that the Pakistani government not only gives tacit consent for such strikes but also provides ground intelligence to the United States.

In response to our lawsuit, the Pakistani government has claimed that there is no written, verbal or tacit consent for such strikes nor any intelligence sharing. It cites two joint parliamentary resolutions declaring drone strikes a counterproductive violation of sovereignty and a request to stop such strikes. But Pakistan's former military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, painted a different picture in a CNN interview in April, admitting that he consented to a number of strikes during his tenure as president.

In a recent landmark ruling on one of our drone lawsuits, the Peshawar High Court categorically ordered Pakistan's government to end its duplicity and defend its citizens' right to life by demanding that America halt drone strikes and compensate civilian victims.

People in Waziristan do not expect much of their government, but they at the very least deserve justice and a right to live.

If Mr. Obama will not end the strikes that are killing innocent Pakistanis, it is the duty of our government to stop America's extrajudicial campaign of killing on our territory, just as it is the Pakistani government's duty to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the country - but within the bounds of law and adhering to the principles of due process.

Israel/Palestine
9) Peace debate exposes deep rifts in Israeli government
Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, Tue, May 21, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/israel-extends-palestinians-gaza-fishing-zone-091054645.html

Jerusalem - Israel's coalition government presented a divided front on Palestinian statehood on Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepared a new mission to revive long-defunct peace talks.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee, Israeli chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni outlined a vision she said she shared with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of an end to the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians. "My policy and that of the prime minister is that a solution of two states for two peoples must be achieved," said Livni, who heads a small centrist party in the governing coalition.

Far-right members of the government were having none of it, in a rare public clash of ideologies between political allies in Netanyahu's administration since it took office in March. "Two states for two peoples might be Netanyahu's position, but it is not the official government position. It is not part of its basic guidelines," Orit Struck of the Bayit Yehudi party said at the Foreign Affairs and Defence committee session.

The party's leader, Naftali Bennett, repeatedly voiced his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying it would ultimately be ruled by Muslim militants intent on destroying Israel.

Instead, the former Jewish settlement leader said, Israel should annex much of the West Bank, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war along with East Jerusalem and Gaza.
[...]

Honduras
10) Honduran victims of US drug war still await justice
Some Hondurans pay the ultimate price for a DEA that operates with impunity in the region.
Dan Beeton & Alex Main, Al Jazeera, 20 May 2013 18:16
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/05/2013515122739553818.html

[Beeton is International Communications Director and Main is Senior Associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.]

Three weeks ago, President Obama travelled to Costa Rica to attend a summit of Central American leaders, focused in part on regional security. Obama made headlines by proclaiming a shift in US strategy towards the region, which has been fighting a losing battle against drug trafficking.

The US, he said, would focus more on supporting education, economic development and poverty reduction - tackling the factors that push people to use and sell drugs - and less on a militarised approach that has in recent years sought to adapt US lessons from the war in Afghanistan to the "drug war" in the Americas.

The increasingly militarised approach to combating narcotics has, many observers and political leaders say, led to skyrocketing rates of violence in the region. More than 50,000 people have been killed in Mexico alone since the past administration of Felipe Calderon initiated a tougher approach towards cartels in 2006. The drug networks have increasingly moved into Central America, as has cocaine from South America, and violence has followed.

In response, presidents - from Guatemala's Otto Perez Molina to former Mexican leader Vicente Fox - have proposed decriminalisation as an alternative strategy that would hit the cartels in the pocketbook. But the US government has continued to push back against such proposals, even as US states Colorado and Washington have legalised marijuana for recreational use.

The US-led "war on drugs" - in partnership with often corrupt and murderous police forces - has continued to have grave consequences for our neighbours south of the border. In the increasingly militarised drug war, suspects are sometimes killed in the field; suspicion of involvement in drug trafficking warrants a death sentence. Government drug warriors on the scene play the role of judge, jury and executioner. This May 11 marked one year since the tragic killing of four indigenous villagers in Ahuas, in Honduras' Moskitia region. The victims, who included a pregnant woman and a 14-year-old boy, were killed in a joint US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)/Honduran police counter-narcotics operation. Three other villagers were shot and wounded.

One year later, the exact role that the DEA agents played in the deaths of Juana Jackson, Candelaria Trapp Nelson, Emerson Martinez and Hasked Brooks Wood remains unclear. The US government has never conducted an independent investigation into the incident, and has obstructed the Honduran investigation by denying the investigators access to either the ten DEA agents involved or their weapons.

Nor have Honduran authorities been allowed to examine the heavy-calibre mounted guns on the State Department-owned helicopters used in the operation, which survivors and witnesses claim fired on the victims' canoe from above. Ballistics evidence - including victims' wounds and bullet holes in their boat - suggest that large-calibre bullets rained down on them. The DEA, not surprisingly, tells a different story: a two-sided gun fight between the supposed drug traffickers, in one boat, and the Honduran police agents in another. The DEA agents, we are told, did not fire their weapons.

But the Honduran police agents on the scene that day claim that DEA agents and a helicopter fired on the villagers' boat. They also claim that the DEA was in charge: something the DEA authorities in Honduras actually confirmed immediately following the incident.

In January, 58 members of Congress called for a new, independent investigation into what happened. The Obama administration has expressed no interest in doing this. Meanwhile, it has left the shooting victims to languish; people already struggling to make ends meet have been forced to find money to pay for complicated surgeries and other medical treatments. The deceased victims' family members have had to carry on without the important support their relatives had provided them. The US government's approach to the Ahuas villagers has been consistent in its callousness.

Obama's vows of shifting the offensive against drugs away from such militarised methods have provoked scepticism, but his rhetoric, at least, is on the right path. The "war on drugs" has been a failure, a war that in practice has all too often resulted in civilian deaths, as happens in all wars. Moving away from such failed policies and practices would be a long overdue and welcome change.
[...]

-
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just 'Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews


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Farc tried this before with disastrous results. As part of a previous peace process in the mid-1980s it created the Patriotic Union party to participate in electoral politics while the rebels remained in arms.

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