JFP News 7/31: Honduran Coup Leaders Send "Mixed Signals"
Just Foreign Policy News
July 31, 2009
Rep. Grijalva Urges Greater U.S. Pressure on the Coup Regime in Honduras
Rep. Raul Grijalva is circulating a letter to President Obama, calling on him to freeze U.S. assets and suspend U.S. visas of coup leaders. Signers of the letter include Reps. McGovern, Conyers, Serrano, Fattah, Honda, Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Oberstar, and Kucinich. Urge your Representative to sign the Grijalva letter calling for more U.S. pressure on the coup regime.
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1) Honduran police cracked down on protesters and the Honduran Congress delayed consideration of an amnesty bill needed to end the standoff, even as the de facto leader appeared to back away from his opposition to reinstating President Zelaya, AP reports. President Zelaya urged the US to apply pressure on the coup government "with more energy, more strength and greater decisiveness." He will also ask for "immediate action" from the U.N. and OAS. A Zelaya adviser said a proposal would be floated in the OAS for other countries to extend visa cancellations - like those by the US against four coup officials - to a broader range of those involved in the coup, as well as freezing their bank accounts.
2) The Israeli peace group Gush Shalom ("Peace Bloc") is launching a campaign against organizations soliciting donations for Israeli settlements in the US, particularly those receiving US federal tax exemptions, the Jerusalem Post reports. One of the organizations singled out by Gush Shalom is called "Shuva Israel," which describes itself as "a US non-profit organization with 501c3 IRS tax deductible status." The organization solicits money for a long list of West Bank settlements and illegal outposts including Havat Gilad and Havat Ya'ir, which are on the list of outposts Israel has promised the US to dismantle. While Shuva Israel has an address in Austin, Texas, the organization is located in the West Bank settlement of Revava.
3) Gen. McChrystal is preparing a new strategy that calls for a vast increase in the size of Afghan security forces, the Washington Post reports. He also "appears inclined" to request an increase in US troops, the Post says.
4) According to the U.S.-Iraq security agreement as passed by the Iraqi parliament, there was supposed to be a referendum in Iraq by this week on the agreement, the New York Times reports. Had the referendum failed, US forces would have had to leave Iraq within a year of the vote. The government has proposed scheduling the referendum for Jan. 15 to coincide with parliamentary elections.
5) U.S. officials briefed Israel this week on the administration's ideas for intensifying sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama's offer of dialogue, Haaretz reports. National Security Advisor Jonesindicated Iran has until the UN General Assembly in the last week of September to respond. If no satisfactory answer is received, the Americans said they would work to form an international coalition to impose harsh sanctions on Iran. New sanctions would mainly aim to significantly curb Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products. They also want to impose sanctions on any company that trades with Iran and use this to pressure other countries, mainly in Asia, to resist making deals with Iran.
6) President Obama's top Sudan envoy said there was no basis for keeping Sudan on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism and that it was only a matter of time before the US would have to "unwind" economic sanctions, the Washington Post reports. The administration's priorities, he said, include negotiating a durable political solution in Darfur and averting a collapse of a U.S.-brokered 2005 peace accord ending a war between Khartoum and southern-backed rebels. Gen. Gration said U.S. economic sanctions had undermined US efforts to help implement the 2005 accord, barring the delivery of heavy equipment needed for road and rail projects in southern Sudan. He said the provision of such assistance would be vital in ensuring that southerners can establish a viable government if, as expected, they vote to secede from Sudan in a 2011 referendum.
7) The UN says the widening war in Afghanistan is taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians, with 1,013 killed in the first six months of 2009, up from 818 during the same period in 2008, the New York Times reports. More of the fighting is taking place in civilian areas. The deaths caused by pro-government operations are leading to "a strong feeling of anger and disappointment among the Afghan general public," the report warned.
8) A senior Vietnamese military officer said at the current pace, it will take 300 years and more than $10 billion to clear Vietnam of left-over bombs, shells and mines, Reuters reports. With aid, the agency in charge of clearing unexploded ordnance estimated only half could be cleared by 2050. The agency and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation reported that since the war ended in 1975, bombs and mines had killed 10,529 people and injured 12,231 in six provinces.
9) Brazilian President Lula and Chile's President Bachelet criticized Colombia's plans to host U.S. military operations, Bloomberg reports. Bachelet plans to call a meeting August 10 to discuss Colombia's decision and the regional backlash it generated.
1) Honduras gives mixed signals on possible deal
Freddy Cuevas and Alexandra Olson, Associated Press, Friday, July 31, 2009 2:27 AM
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Honduran police cracked down on protesters and Congress delayed consideration of an amnesty bill needed to end the standoff, even as the interim leader appeared to back away from his opposition to reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
The mixed signals from Honduras' interim powers on whether a deal to resolve the country's coup crisis is imminent came as Zelaya met with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras in Nicaragua, where the ousted president has set up his government in exile.
But Zelaya's foreign minister expressed frustration with meeting with U.S. officials, saying nothing new came out of it.
The interim government has long said it hopes to outlast international sanctions and diplomatic isolation until November elections, which it hopes will weaken calls to restore Zelaya, who was flown into exile during a June 28 coup.
A former Honduran government official said Thursday that interim President Roberto Micheletti is open to considering Zelaya's reinstatement, but wants concessions to mollify reluctant business leaders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge information from a private conversation.
Micheletti's previous refusal to even consider Zelaya's reinstatement was a key stumbling block in talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias on resolving Honduras' political crisis.
While Micheletti's apparent flexibility was seen as a positive sign for negotiations, Honduras' congressional leaders decided to put off until Monday consideration of a bill on granting amnesties to both sides in the dispute - an important part of Arias' plan to end the standoff. Congress had originally been scheduled to take up the matter this week.
Also marking a tougher stance, riot police in Tegucigalpa used tear gas and night sticks to break up a pro-Zelaya blockade of a main artery leading into the capital. Police said 25 people were injured and 88 arrested.
Zelaya told reporters after the three-hour meeting that he asked for Washington to apply pressure on the interim government "with more energy, more strength and greater decisiveness." He will also ask for "immediate action" from the U.N. and Organization of American States.
But his foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, told the Telesur network that "it has been a meeting of repetitions, of positions that can't be negotiated. They (the U.S. diplomats) didn't come with a change, nor any new proposal."
Micheletti called the meeting an "interference," and said "Ambassador Llorens has committed a serious mistake by meeting with Zelaya."
Zelaya adviser Milton Jimenez said a proposal would be floated in the OAS for other countries to extend visa cancellations - like those by the United States against four interim government officials - to a broader range of those involved in the coup, as well as freezing their bank accounts.
The former Honduran official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Micheletti told Arias that the door was open to Zelaya's reinstatement. The ex-official, who has been in frequent contact with Micheletti, said he spoke Wednesday with the interim leader.
The former official said Micheletti is seeking several changes to a compromise proposed by Arias last week that would restore Zelaya as president of a coalition government. The changes are aimed providing stronger guarantees that Zelaya will not resume efforts to change the constitution, an initiative that prompted his ouster.
The agreement already stipulates that Zelaya must drop ambitions to change the constitution. But among other proposals, Micheletti is suggesting that before Zelaya returns, an international commission would be put in place to monitor compliance with the agreement.
2) Left-wing Israeli NGO battles settlements in US
Dan Izenberg , Jerusalem Post, Jul. 30, 2009
The left-wing organization Gush Shalom is launching a campaign against organizations soliciting donations in the United States, particularly those receiving US federal tax exemptions for settlements and illegal outposts, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The timing of the campaign has been stepped up from September to August because the Foreign Ministry recently launched its own campaign to block governments of foreign countries from donating money to human rights organizations in Israel.
One of the organizations singled out by Gush Shalom is called "Shuva Israel," which describes itself as "a US non-profit organization with 501c3 IRS tax deductible status."
The organization solicits money for a long list of West Bank settlements and illegal outposts including Havat Gilad and Havat Ya'ir, which are on the list of outposts Israel has promised the US to dismantle.
According to Gush Shalom, which refused to comment on this report, "while the public launch of the campaign, through publication of the first reports and legal actions, was originally planned for September of this year, recent events have prompted us to accelerate the timetable.
"The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Avigdor Lieberman, in a grossly undemocratic move and in close coordination with a number of purportedly independent organizations such as NGO Monitor, has decided to actively target the operations of Israeli human rights organizations active in the Occupied Territories by pressuring the government of friendly nations to cease critical financial support for them."
According to Gush Shalom, in criticizing the Dutch embassy in Israel for giving a grant of almost €20,000 to Breaking the Silence for its controversial report on alleged IDF human rights and war crime violations during Operation Cast Lead, the government acknowledged that the organization's actions were legal and legitimate but allegedly said they were politically incorrect.
On the other hand, "many of the activities of the organizations targeted by our campaign are illegitimate and/or illegal under international, US and EU law." In the first phase of its campaign, Gush Shalom will pressure the US to halt tax exemptions to Israeli organizations and NGOs which "directly and openly support the development and operation of illegal outposts.
The organization referred to Shuva Israel as one of them. While it has an address in Austin, Texas, the organization is located in the West Bank settlement of Revava.
Gush Shalom said that in the second stage of the campaign, it will focus on the financing mechanisms of mainstream organizations such as Nefesh B'Nefesh, Christian Zionist philanthropies, the Jewish National Fund and the World Zionist Organization, which are also active in the West Bank.
3) In Afghanistan, U.S. May Shift Strategy
Request for Big Boost in Afghan Troops Could Also Require More Americans
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, Friday, July 31, 2009
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is preparing a new strategy that calls for major changes in the way U.S. and other NATO troops there operate, a vast increase in the size of Afghan security forces and an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials, according to several people familiar with the contents of an assessment report that outlines his approach to the war.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, appears inclined to request an increase in American troops to implement the new strategy, which aims to use more unconventional methods to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, according to members of an advisory group he convened to work on the assessment. Such a request could receive a chilly reception at the White House, where some members of President Obama's national security team have expressed reluctance about authorizing any more deployments.
A request for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan could pose a political challenge for Obama. Some leading congressional Democrats have voiced skepticism about sustaining current force levels, set to reach 68,000 by the fall. After approving an extra 21,000 troops in the spring, Obama himself questioned whether "piling on more and more troops" would lead to success, and his national security adviser, James L. Jones, told U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan last month that the administration wants to hold troop levels flat for now.
One senior administration official said some members of Obama's national security team want to see how McChrystal uses the 21,000 additional troops before any more deployments are authorized. "It'll be a tough sell," the official said.
One of the key changes outlined in the latest drafts of the assessment report, which will be provided to Gates by mid-August, is a shift in the "operational culture" of U.S. and NATO forces. Commanders will be encouraged to increase contact with Afghans, even if it means living in less-secure outposts inside towns and spending more time on foot patrols instead of in vehicles.
"McChrystal understands that you don't stop IEDs [improvised explosive devices] by putting your soldiers in MRAPs," heavily armored trucks designed to withstand blasts, said Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington who served on the assessment team. "You stop them by convincing the population not to plant them in the first place, and that requires getting out of trucks and interacting with people."
The report calls for intelligence resources to be realigned to focus more on tribal and social dynamics so commanders can identify local power brokers and work with them. Until recently, the vast majority of U.S. and NATO intelligence assets had been oriented toward tracking insurgents.
The changes are aimed at fulfilling McChrystal's view that the primary mission of the international forces is not to conduct raids against Taliban strongholds but to protect civilians and help the Afghan government assume responsibility for maintaining security. "The focus has to be on the people," he said in a recent interview.
To accomplish that, McChrystal has indicated that he is considering moving troops out of remote mountain valleys where Taliban fighters have traditionally sought sanctuary and concentrating more forces around key population centers.
The assessment report also urges the United States and NATO to almost double the size of the Afghan security forces. It calls for expanding the Afghan army from 134,000 soldiers to about 240,000, and the police force from 92,000 personnel to about 160,000. Such an increase would require additional U.S. forces to conduct training and mentoring.
Some U.S. and European officials involved in Afghanistan policy warn that the Afghan government does not have the means to pay for such a large army and police force, but McChrystal and his assessment team believe additional Afghan troops are essential to the country's stability. [Increasing the size of the Afghan Army would likely be much cheaper than sending additional U.S. troops - JFP.]
4) Explosions in Iraqi Political Office Kill at Least 5
Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed, New York Times, July 31, 2009
Thursday was also when Iraqis were supposed to vote on the Iraqi-American security agreement, including the timing of the departure of United States troops. When the Iraqi Parliament approved the security plan last year, one of the terms was that a national referendum be held by July 30, 2009.
The referendum plan had been a way to appease Iraqi political groups wary of approving an agreement that allowed American troops to remain in Iraq until 2012.
But with the phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, including the departure of combat forces from cities last month, much of the suspicion among the Iraqi public that the Americans sought to stay indefinitely has been cast away, lessening the urgency for a referendum on the issue, Iraqi lawmakers said Thursday.
Had a national referendum failed, American forces would have had to leave Iraq entirely within one year of the vote.
The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has proposed scheduling the referendum for Jan. 15 to coincide with parliamentary elections.
On Thursday, one of the few public mentions of the July 30 deadline was made by Tariq al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents. "This date had been carefully chosen to provide the necessary time to have a tangible result," Hashemi said in a statement. "Failure to meet the date is a delay that denies the Iraqi people their rights."
In the meantime, various Iraqi governmental entities pointed fingers at one another for failing to convene an election.
Some members of Parliament blamed the Maliki government for the delay of the vote, saying it wanted to avoid an embarrassing election defeat; the head of Iraq's elections commission blamed Parliament for failing to approve an election law; and an adviser to Maliki blamed the elections commission and Parliament.
"It is an issue between Parliament and the Independent High Electoral Commission," said Ali al-Mousawi, Maliki's media adviser. "The government submitted a suggestion to Parliament to hold the election on the same date as the parliamentary election. So why didn't Parliament refuse that suggestion and hold it on July 30? The government only carries out what the Parliament asks it to."
5) U.S. Briefs Israel On Plans For Harsher Sanctions Against Iran If Nuclear Talks Fail
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 31/07/2009
American officials briefed Israel this week on the administration's ideas for intensifying sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to President Barack Obama's offer of dialogue.
U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones, who is now in Israel to discuss Iran's nuclear program, indicated that Tehran has until the UN General Assembly in the last week of September to respond. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a similar message during his visit here earlier this week. If no satisfactory answer is received, the Americans said, they would work to form an international coalition to impose harsh sanctions on Iran.
A senior source in Jerusalem said the American message to Israel in these talks was to "lower its profile" and refrain from "ranting and raving" about Iran in public until the international evaluation on Iran takes place at the end of September. "Until that date, we must give diplomacy a chance," the official said.
New sanctions would mainly aim to significantly curb Tehran's ability to import refined petroleum products. Despite its huge crude oil reserves, Iran has only limited refining capacity, so it imports large quantities of refined products such as gasoline.
Jones and his team reported that a bill by Senator Joe Lieberman to curb sales of refined oil products to Iran is almost complete, and 67 senators have already signed it.
The Americans are proposing financial sanctions such as banning insurance on trade deals with Tehran, which would make it difficult for Iran to trade with other countries. They also want to impose sanctions on any company that trades with Iran and use this to pressure other countries, mainly in Asia, to resist making deals with Iran.
In the next stage, the Americans will consider even harsher sanctions, such as banning Iranian ships from docking in Western ports and, as a next step, banning Iranian airplanes from landing in Western airports.
Jones and his team presented the ideas that the administration is forging, together with France, Britain and Germany, on imposing additional sanctions on Iran via the UN Security Council if the dialogue fails. The Americans are also discussing this issue with Russia, which at this stage objects to further sanctions.
China, which has numerous interests in Iran, also objects to further sanctions. Jones told the Israelis that Obama will therefore go to China soon to try to enlist Beijing to join the coalition.
6) U.S. Diplomat Urges Revised Sudan Policy : Inclusion on Terrorism List Challenged
Inclusion on Terrorism List Challenged
Colum Lynch, Washington Post, Friday, July 31, 2009
President Obama's top Sudan envoy said Thursday that there was no basis for keeping Sudan on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism and that it was only a matter of time before the United States would have to "unwind" economic sanctions against the Khartoum government.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration's remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee represented the most forceful critique yet by a U.S. official of the long-standing American effort to put economic and political pressure on Sudan's Islamic government. Sudan, which has harbored members of al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, was designated a terrorism sponsor in 1993.
Gration's comments Thursday raised concerns among activists and Sudan's critics in Congress that the administration is offering to reward Sudan without securing assurances that the government will take steps to end conflict in the Darfur region and in the south.
The president's national security advisers have been locked in dispute over the right mix of rewards and penalties to persuade the Khartoum government to pursue peace in those regions. Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been pressing for a tougher approach, citing Khartoum's history of violating agreements.
The interagency feud became public last month, when Gration told reporters that Sudan's government was no longer engaging in a "coordinated" campaign of mass murder against Darfurian civilians. Two days earlier, Rice had said that Sudan was engaged in a campaign of genocide in Darfur.
"There is a significant difference between what happened in 2003, which we characterized as genocide, and what is happening today," Gration said Thursday.
Gration told the Senate committee that the administration would "roll out" a new, comprehensive strategy on Darfur in the next few weeks that would include "both incentives and pressure" for Khartoum. The administration's priorities, he said, include negotiating a durable political solution in Darfur and averting a collapse of a U.S.-brokered 2005 peace accord ending a war between Khartoum and southern-backed rebels.
But Gration hinted at the tensions over strategy, noting that the State Department had rejected a proposal to fund more U.S. diplomats or private contractors to help support American mediation efforts in Sudan. He said he would raise the issue at a higher level.
Gration said U.S. economic sanctions had undermined American efforts to help implement the 2005 accord, barring the delivery of heavy equipment needed for road and rail projects in southern Sudan. He said the provision of such assistance would be vital in ensuring that southerners can establish a viable government if, as expected, they vote to secede from Sudan in a 2011 referendum.
"We're going to have to unwind some of these sanctions so that we can do the very things we need to do to ensure a peaceful transition to a state that is viable in the south, if they choose to do that," he said.
7) Civilian Toll Rising in Afghanistan, U.N. Says
Sharon Otterman, New York Times, August 1, 2009
The widening war in Afghanistan between Taliban militants and American-allied Afghan forces is taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians, with 1,013 killed in the first six months of 2009, up from 818 during the same period in 2008, according to a United Nations report released Friday.
Explosions and suicide attacks carried out by anti-government forces, including the Taliban, caused a majority of the civilian deaths, killing 595 during the period, the report said. Of the 310 deaths attributed to pro-government forces, about two-thirds were caused by American airstrikes. The remaining deaths could not be attributed to any of the parties in the conflict, according to the report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
As the civilian toll climbs, the death rate for American soldiers also reached a new high. Forty-two Americans died in July, the deadliest month for American service members in the country since the 2001 invasion, according to the Defense Department and the Web site icasualties.org. Twenty-two British soldiers also died in July.
The main rise in civilian deaths came from the increasingly lethal tactics of the anti-government insurgents, including the use of improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks and assassinations, the report said. While in 2007, insurgents were responsible for 46 percent of the civilian deaths in the war, they are now accountable for 60 percent of them. Almost a third of the country is now directly affected by insurgent activity, the report said, and that reach is steadily spreading.
Afghan civilians are increasingly finding themselves in the center of the deepening operations to rout the Taliban militants. More of the fighting is taking place in civilian areas as the government and foreign forces seek to quell the insurgency.
The deaths caused by pro-government operations are leading to "a strong feeling of anger and disappointment among the Afghan general public," the report warned, adding that they are "undermining support for the continued presence of the international military forces, and the international community generally."
8) Ordnance 'May Take Centuries To Clear' In Vietnam
John Ruwitch, Reuters, 31 Jul 2009
Hanoi - At the current pace, it will take 300 years and more than $10 billion to clear Vietnam of left-over bombs, shells and mines, a humanitarian and economic scourge in parts of the country, a senior military officer said on Friday.
With aid, the agency in charge of clearing unexploded ordnance estimated that only about half could be cleared by 2050, said Phan Duc Tuan, an army colonel and deputy head of the military's engineering command.
On Friday, the agency within the Vietnamese military that oversees clearance of unexploded ordnance and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation released a report detailing the problem in six central provinces that saw some of the heaviest fighting during the decade-long war with the United States.
The report said that since the war ended in 1975, bombs and mines had killed 10,529 people and injured 12,231 in the six provinces, which are situated near the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divided Communist North Vietnam from the U.S.-backed south.
Most of the casualties were men collecting scrap metal, farming or herding, the report found, but many children were also killed or injured playing with unexploded ordnance.
9) Lula Says U.S. Military Based in Colombia Doesn't 'Please' Him
Carlos Caminada and Joshua Goodman, Bloomberg, July 30
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he regrets that Colombia is offering to host U.S. military counter-narcotics operations even as he respects the country's sovereign right to do so.
"An American base in Colombia doesn't please me," Lula told reporters today in Sao Paulo today after a meeting with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet, commenting on the U.S. plans for the first time. "But just as I wouldn't want Uribe interfering in my government, I'm not going to interfere in his," he said, referring to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Bachelet said she shared Lula's views "completely." As interim head of the Union of South American Nations, she plans to call a meeting August 10 in Quito to discuss Colombia's decision and the regional backlash it generated.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pulled his ambassador to Colombia yesterday and "froze" relations with the neighboring country while ordering a review of all their commercial ties.
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