JFP News, 7/6: US says aid to Honduras has been "put on pause"
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July 6, 2009
Urge Secretary of State Clinton to Take Action to Restore President Zelaya
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Habib Ahmadzadeh: Mousavi Must Say Which Ballot Boxes He Disputes
Iranian writer and filmmaker Habib Ahmadzadeh urges former Prime Minister Mousavi to be specific in his complaints about the Iranian election, and to say which ballot boxes he disputes.
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1) U.S. officials say military and development aid to Honduras has been "put on pause," the Washington Post reports. On Saturday, the OAS voted to suspend Honduras. On Sunday, coup leaders blocked President Zelaya from returning to Honduras. Security forces fired tear gas and bullets to keep demonstrators away from the airport; an AP photographer reported that one man was shot in the head.
2) Vice President Biden suggested the U.S. would not stand in the way of Israeli military action aimed at the Iranian nuclear program, the New York Times reports. The U.S. "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do." Biden told ABC. It was not clear whether Biden was sending an officially sanctioned message, the NYT says. Admiral Mullen warned of the costs of any military strike against Iran. "It could be very destabilizing, and it is the unintended consequences of that which aren't predictable," Mullen told Fox News. But Mullen added: "I think it's very important, as we deal with Iran, that we don't take any options, including military options, off the table."
3) Obama and Biden said the accelerating crackdown on opposition leaders in Iran would not deter them from seeking to engage the country's top leadership in direct negotiations, the New York Times reports. US officials say before Iran's election, they received indications that Iran would respond to Obama's overtures this summer. Officials said they have heard nothing from Iran's leaders since. U.S. officials said it is unlikely Israel would ask the U.S. for bunker-busting bombs, refueling ability for its military aircraft, and overflight rights over Iraq necessary to strike Natanz. But Israel could look elsewhere for those things, the NYT suggests. But Mullen told CBS any strike on Iran could be "very destabilizing." The implication was that following an attack on its nuclear plants, counterstrikes could be expected by Iran or its proxies, aimed at the U.S., its troops in the region or its allies, the NYT says.
4) The head of Mossadhas assured Israel's prime minister Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran's nuclear sites, the London Sunday Times reports. Earlier this year Mossad's director held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the possibility, the paper says.
5) Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, the Honduran Army's top lawyer, admitted that the Honduran military made the decision to expel President Zelaya and that the action was illegal, the Miami Herald reports. Inestroza admits he'd have a hard time taking orders from a leftist, the paper says. "It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible," Inestroza said. [Since the Honduran military was trained by the U.S., the statements beg a question about U.S. military training - JFP.]
6) Israel says it will expel activists detained at sea last week as they tried to ferry aid to Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade, the BBC reports. Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire and former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney are among the detainees. They complain the Israeli navy seized them illegally in Palestinian waters. "We were kidnapped and we were brought here at point of a gun from Gazan waters here to Israel; we have been abducted," McGuire said. The Red Cross recently described Palestinians living in Gaza as people "trapped in despair", unable to rebuild their lives after Israel's offensive.
7) Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi released documents Saturday detailing a campaign of alleged fraud by supporters of President Ahmadinejad, the Washington Post reports. Mousavi's complaint accused Ahmadinejad supporters of handing out cash bonuses and food, increasing wages, printing millions of extra ballots and other acts in the run-up to the vote. [Remarkably absent from the Washington Post account is anything disputing the actual vote tally, surely a key question in considering an allegation that the election was "stolen" - JFP.]
8) Last year about 18,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe, a figure nearly double the 2007 total, the New York Times reports, the highest increase for any major country in 2008. Young men are turning over their savings - up to $25,000 - to smugglers.
9) Presidential candidates in Afghanistan are denouncing civilian casualties by foreign forces and called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, the Washington Post reports. Public opinion surveys suggest Karzai is likely to emerge the winner. Karzai can hold endless televised news conferences, while the threat of insurgent attacks makes it dangerous for other candidates to venture into the countryside to enhance their name recognition, the Post says. "There is very little public enthusiasm for this election," said the director of the Afghan Center for Research and Policy Studies.
10) Many Iraqis are skeptical much will change after last week's pullback of U.S. combat troops from Baghdad and other cities, with some 130,000 U.S. troops remaining in the country, AP reports. Baghdad is no longer constantly buzzed by low-flying American helicopters and there were no American soldiers in sight during several tours of the city over the past few days, AP says. Parliamentary elections are due in January and Maliki's chances for a second term in office depend heavily on whether the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces is adhered to, AP says.
1) Standoff in the Air in Honduras
Zelaya's Plane Forced to Turn Back After Government Refuses Landing
William Booth and Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Monday, July 6, 2009
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - In a high-stakes standoff that played out in the skies over Honduras, the airplane carrying ousted president Manuel Zelaya was forced to circle the nation's main airport twice before flying away Sunday evening after coup leaders who deposed Zelaya blocked his landing with troops on the runway.
The turn-back of Zelaya's white jet left thousands of his supporters shouting in disappointment and anger. Minutes earlier, security forces fired tear gas and bullets at the crowd to keep demonstrators away from the airport, which was surrounded by soldiers and military vehicles.
The Red Cross said people 30 people were wounded in the melee, but there were conflicting reports about fatalities. An Associated Press photographer reported that one man was shot in the head. [Bloomberg and Reuters reported that at least one person was killed; Telesur, that at least two people were killed - JFP.]
The government of Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, had warned Sunday that it would refuse to allow Zelaya to land at any airport in Honduras and ordered the military to turn the plane back. A Honduran aviation official said the restrictions applied only to Zelaya and his entourage. But the order effectively shut down air traffic across the country for the day. Flights from all major carriers in and out of the nation were canceled.
U.S. officials confirmed that Honduras's de facto government had sent a message to the OAS seeking to open negotiations, a move that one official described as positive.
"We think this could create the basis for continuing movement by the OAS on diplomatic initiatives," one official said. However, he said the hemispheric body would still insist that Zelaya be allowed to return and serve out the rest of his term, which ends in January.
Zelaya left Washington after the OAS voted in a late meeting Saturday to suspend Honduras, putting in jeopardy about $200 million in loans the Central American country receives from the Inter-American Development Bank. In addition, U.S. military and development aid has been "put on pause," the official said, and military cooperation has been limited.
2) Biden Suggests U.S. Not Standing in Israel's Way on Iran
Brian Knowlton, New York Times, July 6, 2009
Plunging squarely into one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. suggested on Sunday that the United States would not stand in the way of Israeli military action aimed at the Iranian nuclear program. The United States, Biden said in an interview broadcast on ABC's "This Week," "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do."
"Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," he said, in an interview taped in Baghdad at the end of a visit there.
The remarks went beyond at least the spirit of any public utterances by President Barack Obama, who has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program should be given to the end of the year. But the president has also said that he is "not reconciled" to the possibility of Iran possessing a nuclear weapon - a goal Tehran denies.
Biden's comments came at a particularly sensitive time, amid the continuing tumult over the disputed Iranian elections, and seemed to risk handing a besieged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a new tool with which to fan nationalist sentiments in Iran.
What was not immediately clear was whether Biden, who has a long-standing reputation for speaking volubly - and sometimes going too far in the heat of the moment - was sending an officially sanctioned message.
The Obama administration has said, and Biden reaffirmed this, that it remains open to negotiations with Tehran, even after the bitterly contested election that returned Ahmadinejad to the presidency. "If the Iranians respond to the offer of engagement, we will engage," Biden said. "The offer's on the table."
But separately, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned of the costs of any military strike against Iran. "It could be very destabilizing, and it is the unintended consequences of that which aren't predictable," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Still, he added, "I think it's very important, as we deal with Iran, that we don't take any options, including military options, off the table."
Earlier in his interview with ABC, Biden had seemed sensitive to the risk of handing Ahmadinejad and the supreme Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, a propaganda edge by criticizing the elections too forcefully and allowing them to claim that "the reason why there was unrest is outside influence." He called Obama's original condemnations, which some criticized as overly cautious, "absolutely pitch-perfect."
If Biden's comments on Israel and Iran were perhaps off the cuff, he did not back away from them when given a chance to do so.
George Stephanopoulos, the program's host, asked: "But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?"
And Biden replied: "Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination - if they make a determination - that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country."
The Israeli government has said that it hopes to see the Iranian nuclear program halted through diplomacy, but it has not ruled out a military strike. Talk of such a strike flared episodically during the Bush presidency.
Such a strike is considered highly problematic, both for the unpredictable shock waves it would send coursing through the region and because of the technical difficulty of destroying nuclear facilities that are scattered around Iran, some of them deep underground.
3) Despite Crisis, Policy On Iran Is Engagement
David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 6, 2009
President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in separate interviews this weekend, said that the accelerating crackdown on opposition leaders in Iran in recent days would not deter them from seeking to engage the country's top leadership in direct negotiations.
In an interview with The New York Times, a day before his scheduled departure for Moscow on Sunday, Obama said he had "grave concern" about the arrests and intimidation of Iran's opposition leaders, but insisted, as he has throughout the Iranian crisis, that the repression would not close the door on negotiations with the Iranian government.
"We've got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community," Obama said.
Before Iran's disputed election on June 12, the president's top aides say, they received back-channel indications from Iran - from emissaries who claimed to represent the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - that the country would respond to Obama's overtures this summer. But the crackdown and the divisions among senior clerics about the legitimacy of the election and Ayatollah Khamenei's credibility have changed the political dynamics. Senior administration officials said they have heard nothing from Iran's leaders.
The administration, meanwhile, has been preparing for two opposite possibilities: One in which the Iranian leadership seeks to regain a measure of legitimacy by taking up Obama's offer to talk - a situation that could put Washington in the uncomfortable position of giving credibility to a government whose actions Obama has deplored - or one in which Iran rejects negotiations. Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in May that if there were no progress on the Iranian nuclear issue by the year's end, the administration would turn to other steps, including sanctions. Obama hinted at an even shorter schedule during the interview on Saturday. "We will have to assess in coming weeks and months the degree to which they are willing to walk through that door," he said.
Obama declined to talk about the preparations for a tougher line. But as he prepared to leave on Sunday for Moscow, he said the United States now had more leverage to pressure Iran because he had succeeded in getting "countries like Russia and China to take these issues seriously," noting that both had approved stricter sanctions on North Korea.
Last spring, when President George W. Bush was in office, Israeli officials approached the White House seeking bunker-busting bombs, refueling ability for its military aircraft, and overflight rights over Iraq necessary to strike Natanz. Bush deflected those requests.
American officials have said it is unlikely that Netanyahu would ask Obama for similar help. But that does not mean Israel cannot look elsewhere to develop and obtain that ability.
In comments on the CBS News program "Face the Nation," Admiral Mullen seemed to underscore the Pentagon's concern that an Israeli strike could start a broader conflict, and might simply drive the Iranian nuclear efforts deeper underground. He said any strike on Iran could be "very destabilizing - not just in and of itself but the unintended consequences of a strike like that."
The implication was that following an attack on its nuclear plants, counterstrikes could be expected by Iran or its proxies, aimed at the United States, its troops in the region or its allies.
4) Saudis Give Nod To Israeli Raid On Iran
Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter, London Sunday Times, July 5, 2009
The head of Mossad, Israel's overseas intelligence service, has assured Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran's nuclear sites.
Earlier this year Meir Dagan, Mossad's director since 2002, held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the possibility.
The Israeli press has already carried unconfirmed reports that high-ranking officials, including Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, held meetings with Saudi colleagues. The reports were denied by Saudi officials.
"The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia," a diplomatic source said last week.
Although the countries have no formal diplomatic relations, an Israeli defence source confirmed that Mossad maintained "working relations" with the Saudis.
John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations who recently visited the Gulf, said it was "entirely logical" for the Israelis to use Saudi airspace. Bolton, who has talked to several Arab leaders, added: "None of them would say anything about it publicly but they would certainly acquiesce in an overflight if the Israelis didn't trumpet it as a big success." Arab states would condemn a raid when they spoke at the UN but would be privately relieved to see the threat of an Iranian bomb removed, he said.
5) Top Honduran Military Lawyer: We Broke The Law
Frances Robles, Miami Herald, Jul. 03, 2009
The military officers who rushed deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya out of the country Sunday committed a crime but will be exonerated for saving the country from mob violence, the army's top lawyer said.
In an interview with The Miami Herald and El Salvador's elfaro.net, army attorney Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza acknowledged that top military brass made the call to forcibly remove Zelaya - and they circumvented laws when they did it.
It was the first time any participant in Sunday's overthrow admitted committing an offense and the first time a Honduran authority revealed who made the decision that has been denounced worldwide.
"We know there was a crime there," said Inestroza, the top legal advisor for the Honduran armed forces. "In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime. Because of the circumstances of the moment this crime occurred, there is going to be a justification and cause for acquittal that will protect us."
Inestroza acknowledged that after 34 years in the military, he and many other longtime soldiers found Zelaya's allegiance to Chávez difficult to stomach. Although he calls Zelaya a "leftist of lies" for his bourgeoisie upbringing, he admits he'd have a hard time taking orders from a leftist.
Memories of the 1980s fight against guerrilla insurgents are still fresh in Honduras.
"We fought the subversive movements here and we were the only country that did not have a fratricidal war like the others," he said. "It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible. I personally would have retired, because my thinking, my principles, would not have allowed me to participate in that."
6) Israel to Deport Gaza Activists
BBC News, Monday, 6 July 2009 12:21 UK
Israel says it will expel eight pro-Palestinian activists detained at sea last week as they tried to ferry aid to Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade. Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire and former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney are among the detainees. They complain the Israeli navy seized them illegally in Palestinian waters.
Israel's navy has blockaded Gaza since the election victory of Hamas militants in 2006. It said the Greek ship ignored orders to stop and was intercepted. The crew and passengers were taken into custody last Tuesday and the ship, which had set sail from Cyprus, was impounded in the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Israel's Interior Ministry said the activists would be sent home later on Monday, after refusing to comply willingly with their deportation orders.
Speaking to the media from jail near Tel Aviv, Ms Maguire said the activists were considering contesting the Israeli deportation orders because the recipients had been brought to Israel by the authorities against their will. "We were kidnapped and we were brought here at point of a gun from Gazan waters here to Israel; we have been abducted," Ms McGuire told the al-Jazeera network.
Ms Maguire co-founded Women for Peace, which later became the Community for Peace People, along with fellow Belfast woman Betty Williams. The two women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for their efforts in trying to encourage a peaceful resolution to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The International Committee of the Red Cross recently described the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza as people "trapped in despair", unable to rebuild their lives after Israel's offensive. Donors have pledged $4.5bn for reconstruction and rehabilitation in Gaza following the 22-day offensive which left more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties and 200 schools damaged or destroyed, as well as 39 mosques and two churches.
7) Iranian Details Alleged Fraud
Mousavi Is Also Accused of Treason
Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, Sunday, July 5, 2009
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate in last month's disputed election, released documents Saturday detailing a campaign of alleged fraud by supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that assured his reelection, while an adviser to Iran's supreme leader accused Mousavi of treason.
In a 24-page document posted on his Web site, Mousavi's special committee studying election fraud accused influential Ahmadinejad supporters of handing out cash bonuses and food, increasing wages, printing millions of extra ballots and other acts in the run-up to the vote.
The committee, whose members were appointed by Mousavi, said the state did everything in its power to get Ahmadinejad reelected, including using military forces and government planes to support his campaign.
The report released by Mousavi pointed out that the Interior Ministry, which counted the votes, is headed by Sadegh Mahsouli, a longtime friend of Ahmadinejad. The secretary of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, had publicly supported Ahmadinejad, as had six others on the 12-member council despite a law requiring them to remain impartial, according to the report.
"The law here was completely broken," said Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a top Mousavi campaign official. "What these documents prove is that the two entities that organized the elections were biased and in favor of one candidate."
Mousavi and his supporters say that commanders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps played an instrumental role in the election by campaigning for Ahmadinejad. The report pointed to interviews with Guard Corps publications in which commanders allegedly implied that they would not accept victory by any candidate except Ahmadinejad.
8) Weary Of War, Young Afghans Pay For An Exit
Adam B. Ellick, New York Times, July 5, 2009
Kabul - Through two decades of war, Abdul Ahad never contemplated leaving Afghanistan. But as his country started to deteriorate rapidly in 2007, so did his life. He was laid off from his full-time driving job and forced to take the only work he could find: a once-a-week driving gig through Taliban territory.
In the past eight months, a suicide bomb and a firefight nearly took his life. Now, Ahad, 26, has had enough. He has begun scouting potential smugglers to take him to Europe, he said, looking to join the surge of young Afghans who are abandoning their country, frustrated by endless war, a lack of prospects and the slow pace of change.
While foreign diplomats hold out hope that the August presidential elections and President Obama's new troop deployments could change things here, Afghans are voting with their feet.
Last year about 18,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe, a figure nearly double the 2007 total. The spike was the highest increase for any major country in 2008, according to the United Nations. By comparison, applications from Iraqis fell 10 percent. "People can't find jobs here," Ahad said. "And if you go to a place where there's work, you'll be killed in a week. "I'm desperate," he added. "It's not a big dream. I just want to finish my studies and live normally."
Willing to gamble on the risks, young men like him are turning over their savings - up to $25,000 in some cases - and their lives to smugglers, who arrange routes over seas to Australia or over land to Europe, where the Afghans then try to seek asylum.
Finding a smuggler is not as difficult as it might seem. In interviews in the capital, Kabul, several smugglers, all of whom requested anonymity because their work is illegal, estimated that business was up 60 percent over last year. One said he was turning away customers for the first time in his 11-year career. "It's out of my power to deal with the demand," he said. "I never imagined it would get like this."
The country's dire situation has even prompted some privileged Afghans to leave. They include the host of "Afghan Star," an "American Idol"-style television series, who disappeared after a documentary based on the show won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival; as well as a media officer who worked for President Hamid Karzai and deserted his delegation during an official visit to the United States in September.
9) Karzai's Challengers Face Daunting Odds
Hopefuls Largely Ignore Insurgency
Pamela Constable, Washington Post, Monday, July 6, 2009
Jalalabad, Afghanistan - As U.S. Marines launched a major offensive against Taliban insurgents in southern Helmand province, the presidential campaign unfolding in more peaceful parts of northern and eastern Afghanistan last week seemed to be taking place on another planet.
Whether addressing rallies, chatting with voters in the streets or receiving delegations of tribal leaders, candidates barely mentioned the violent insurgency that international experts fear could sabotage the Aug. 20 polling.
Instead, the presidential hopefuls stuck to themes they knew would resonate with Afghan audiences. They denounced civilian casualties by foreign forces and called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. They railed against corruption in government, evoked past military triumphs and hyped their personal ties to late national leaders.
Public opinion surveys show that Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since soon after the overthrow of Islamist Taliban rule in late 2001, is still likely to emerge the winner. To shore up his flagging popularity, he has made preelection deals with powerful tribal, business and militia figures - including some with unsavory reputations - who command large numbers of votes.
Within the field of 41 candidates, only Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani are considered remotely in the running; most others are expected to pull out or support one of the big three. Karzai can hold endless televised news conferences in his secure palace, while the threat of insurgent attacks makes it dangerous for other candidates to venture into the countryside to enhance their name recognition.
As a result, with just over six weeks until the election, only a handful of the country's 10 million to 12 million voters have met any of the candidates in person. Most campaign events have been highly guarded and orchestrated, such as Abdullah's visit here, which included closed-door meetings with local officials but not a single handshake with audience members.
"There is very little public enthusiasm for this election," said Haroun Mir, director of the Afghan Center for Research and Policy Studies. "The old political actors are still running things, and the attempt to form an opposition coalition failed. No matter who wins the presidency, the government will be dysfunctional - with little hope of reform."
10) Iraqis Remain Skeptical About Significance Of US Military's Pullback
Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press, Sunday, July 5, 2009 9:31 AM
Baghdad - Iraqis are skeptical that much will change after last week's pullback of U.S. combat troops from Baghdad and other cities, a sentiment not shared by their government.
The government declared the June 30 pullback National Sovereignty Day and celebrated it with a military parade and noisy street celebrations by Iraqi soldiers and police. But there was no spontaneous outpouring of joy by Iraqis since many of them did not see the move as significant, with some 130,000 U.S. troops remaining in the country.
The withdrawal from the cities, which was completed Tuesday, is part of a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that lays the ground for a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Most troops pulled back to bases outside urban areas, but the U.S. military left an undisclosed number behind to train and advise the Iraqis. The U.S. military has refused to reveal their number, fearful of feeding any criticism that the Americans aren't honoring the pact or casting doubt on the ability of the Iraqis to handle security alone.
Nothing of substance has changed in Baghdad since June 30, except that thousands of additional Iraqi troops and police have deployed across the city, backed in potential troublespots with tanks and armored vehicles. The lines at some of the hundreds of checkpoints have grown longer, possibly because of more thorough checks.
The city is no longer constantly buzzed by low-flying American helicopters and there were no American soldiers in sight during several tours of the city over the past few days. However, U.S. jet fighters flying at high altitude occasionally scream across the Baghdad sky.
Al-Maliki's confidence in his security forces appears to be unwavering, but many see that vote of confidence to be linked to his political ambitions. Parliamentary elections are due in January and his chances for a second term in office depend heavily on whether recent security gains endure and the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces is adhered to, with all combat U.S. forces out of the country by August 2010 and the rest by the end of 2011.
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